By Adina Pelle
They say there are three-dimensional components to human consciousness. We are born and grow old with them. I am old as I weave my past but young as it all comes back to life.
I do not know about others, but when I think of my childhood I immediately feel the need to hold my head in my hands, maybe suspending this way the heavy weight of so many memories. Not only old people think the past is everything and not only young people believe in the future and nobody can live like a stubborn wild horse only in the present.
When my parents first moved in the yard we lived for ten years, they knew nobody. They had just come out of a Russian-Jewish refugee camp and were happy to be alive, ready to make friends and enjoy life after the war. We lived in two rooms: my room and the kitchen/living room, which was also my parent’s room. Many memories come back to my mind now as the warmth of our simple and frugal life finds its way back in my thoughts toying with my olfactory trance. The kitchen / bedroom smelled of plum pudding and other simple delights my mother was able to put together out of our food ration as all the war refugees had to share. Our little house with the flower garden in front seemed a corner of paradise and I always found my mother bent on something, washing or ironing or baking some little delight. I was convinced she could breathe life into things. All my childhood I drank my milk from a nice cup of porcelain with red and blue flowers. Mother’s hands as she pushed the cup forward moved so slow and gracious suggesting the feeling this cup was not a simple object but an enchanted one.
It did not take too long for my mother to become friendly with the other renters. Vasea and Little Marie were the most colorful couple living right behind our two rooms. They lived in a one-bedroom space and their mere existence fueled my curiosity many times throughout my childhood, mainly because of everything that happened in their house. The liquor they shared on pay nights had fabulous powers not only on their whacky reality but also over my own everyday life keeping away the deed of being a strange child and delivering my entertainment for numerous nights.
Little Marie was not little despite her name, but a tough woman who knew how to hold her liquor though powerless under Vasea’s quick fist. The following day, she would show up in the yard with a black and purple eye and insist on telling the same story every time:
“The door hit me.”
One Christmas eve, Little Marie surprised my mom when she pulled out of a box a little white and blue dress and gave it to me. It was the most beautiful dress I had seen, with white and blue bows attached to its hem and a marine motif on the upper part. The minute it took me to dress up was extended into eternities of blissful happiness, twirling in front of the mirror and running up and down our stone paved yard. My mother was touched by Little Marie’s gift and invited her and Vasea the day after Christmas to a neighborhood bodega hoping to return her friendly gesture.
What my mother did not know, was the effect liquor had on Little Marie. After a couple of beers, to my mother’s shock and my tearful disappointment, Little Marie asked for the dress back. No explanations .I was devastated especially because I did not understand the mechanics of what seemed to be a very cruel game the grownups played.
Since I was well behaved as a child, when I did any foolish deeds I was able to be silent, say nothing, and get away with anything. After my first disappearance that Christmas eve, following the blue dress fiasco, my father found me hours later, freezing cold and talking with two skeletal, wet dogs, cuddled at my feet. He took me home where without a word fixed two hot chocolates expecting, certainly, an explanation, an answer, for me to say anything.
“Why, why did you want to run away? How could you think that this is the way?”
“Do not know,” I answered, sad and without my usual smile. After half an hour, with no words about my wandering, he told me of a friend from work who had a cat and was just looking for a little girl to take care of its kittens. Taking care of the two little black and white kittens kept me entertained that winter, away from the monotony of my life as a small and peculiar little girl.