Ruins

Journal Entry, 28 Jan 2001

I’m sitting naked in the bottom half of a giant clam shell at my grandmother’s house, cool water from the garden hose swirling around my pudgy legs. The outside of the shell is rough; the pearly inner surface is the smoothest thing I’ve ever felt. It’s late Florida summer in 1968, and the sun is hot on my two-year-old skin. I’m surrounded by lush St. Augustine grass. My mother is nearby, laughing. Cicadas in the hickory trees fill the whole world with their chitinous music. I pick up the end of the hose and sling running water over my head. My belly jiggles when I laugh at the arcs of liquid diamond catching the sunlight.

Memories are unreliable, and each time we recall something, it inches closer to our idea of what we want it to have been. Do I remember this scene only because I’ve seen photographs of it? Almost certainly. I remember the red roses my grandmother cultivated beside the house, but I’m sure that memory is from later years.

When I was around five years old, the man who had recently married my mother periodically sent me to the Gulf service station across the busy road to buy Camel cigarettes for him. It would never have occurred to anyone in that place and that time not to sell smokes to a five-year-old. I remember the tobacco smell and the crinkle of cellophane. Sometimes I brought back matches. I remember amber glass ashtrays and Camel butts floating in the toilet bowl.

We lived with my grandmother in that house, about 100 yards from the Thonotossassa Road exit on eastbound Interstate 4, for a couple years. Behind the house, Granny kept a few laying chickens and a pair of goats that kept the lawn uniformly trimmed. According to my mother, I drank a lot of goat milk the first couple years of my life.

In the early nineties, while I was home on leave from Fort Carson, Colorado, I drove out to see Granny’s old house. I found charred ruins. It had burned down less than a year before.
So it goes.

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