In the foreground of the photo my mother recently sent were clumps of basil, summer’s last contribution. The basil, brown-edged in places, was on her counter awaiting freezing. In the background was a dish drain with a yellow Fiesta dinnerware salad plate sitting to dry. Suddenly I was thrust into the summer of 1976, my plastic tumbler filled with ice and chamomile tea leaving circles of condensation on the table as I read in a shade-darkened room, more tea steeping in the Fiesta ware pitcher on the counter, yellow Italian cherry tomatoes and basil in the garden out back.
Across state lines, my father was starting graduate school. I visited sometimes, overnights in the dorm, breakfast with the gang, powdered eggs and orange juice from concentrate, a 7-year old in a room of 20-somethings. Later he rented a room with other graduate students in one of those mansions the locals donated to the university after its occupant died by suicide (or that’s the story I remember being told, anyway). There was a dining room with fox and hound wallpaper, the scene of the hunt. The place gave me the creeps.
These were young people doing young person things. I sometimes wonder who owns the stories? Who gets to decide what our shared reality was? It’s no longer so clear to me. I was willful and stubborn, a tough kid to raise. My parents were depressed in their own ways. One was present and quick to anger, the other hard to reach. Who can I talk to frankly about these times? My father, now dead, has a hagiographer. My mother, more open to my experiences, has her guilt. I am left with an ache, a desire to know those young people, to reach out and reassure them, to ask that I be allowed my own version of events, to let our stories mingle and create a shared history, craggy with details, imbued with emotions, held with love and respect for each other.