There’s something about a finite amount of time that makes you remember things you didn’t before, one moment you’re standing in a mall on an escalator watching a little girl tell her daddy that she loves him as you hold back tears and the next you’re remembering something from when you were five that you couldn’t remember before.
I remember Jim washing the car in the driveway of a Pennsylvania house when I asked him if I could take the training wheels off of my brother’s bike, and I remember him saying that that seemed alright. I remember feeling excited and free and I remember the feeling of falling as I went down the first big hill; he must have been inside by then because I remember opening the door after hitting the telephone pole half way down the hill, my mom standing there with groceries, my brother running to grab a bandaid, and Jim hanging up the phone. I remember the look my mom shot him across the kitchen, and I remember him looking scared and guilty, but also holding back a laugh as he made sure I was okay.
On an army base in Pennsylvania I stood on our sidewalk and asked a little girl why her mommy and daddy didn’t live together anymore. Her daddy grabbed her hand and they walked away. My daddy picked me up and threw me over his shoulder, I wore a matching short and shirt set, with little spaghetti straps and he sat me down, my five-year-old self and grabbed my mommy and they explained to me that some moms and dads don’t live together.
I remember when all the kids on the bus knew their birthdays and I wore overalls and knew I was five, but couldn’t remember the day. I cried one morning before getting on the bus because I knew someone would ask me and I still couldn’t remember; Jim went into his tool cabinet and grabbed a sharpie and in tiny perfect hand writing he wrote on my hand 28 January, he always made his eights with two little circles and that day I knew my birthday and I knew it every day after that. The next year, Jim taught me how to spell encyclopedia so I could tell all the kids on the bus I was smarter than them.
When I was in elementary school we did an egg drop every year; students would buy coffee cans and duct tape and styrofoam and the school would close early that day as teachers and parents and kids watched anxiously to see which eggs survived the drop from the roof. It was Jim’s favorite, he would measure and cut and stay up late at night to make sure my brother’s and mine were the safest of all. Leave it to an army engineer to spend nights fiddling with fabric, and cushion, and coffee cans and making little parachutes for the spectacle of a five and seven year old.
I remember I needed new school shoes and I hated going to the shoe store, and my dad brought home a trunk full of shoes, at least it seemed like it, every color, every size, every style. He came home from work and I knew what it sounded like when his car drove up, I could hear the gravel under the wheels and would race to the back door to be the first to say hi, and there he stood with a mischievous smile and boxes and boxes of shoes for me to choose from and I remember smiling and laughing as we tried on shoes that were too big or too small or too red or too sparkly.
I remember playing in the snow in the yard of our perfect Christmas house, and all was still in the world, I didn’t know I’d ever grow up, or I’d ever have to wonder what life would be like without my dad. We would sled down the big hill, we would ice skate on the pond, and when we came inside Jim would ration marshmallows for my hot chocolate.
I remember lazy Sunday mornings when we first bought this house, I remember I was allowed to wake up earlier than my brother and I had a little campfire mug and Jim would take a tablespoon of coffee out of his coffee and mix it with milk in my mug and we’d have coffee together and in that moment as little as I was, I remember that everything in the world felt perfect.