“When she was there, she had not loved it enough” (Pachinko 239)
My mother says that I cried when we left “my little red house,” the first place I lay my head after the hospital. That’s it up there. It’s not far from where I’m writing this. In the late 90s, I even lived a few blocks from it. Still, I haven’t driven by it in at least thirty years.
It’s just north of the highway, but then again most of everything in the town is now. It had a low chain link fence, probably, and humble dimensions. One rectangle. No nooks or wings. When I looked it up on Google maps, I saw that simplest humblest of destinations — one of innumerable grey blocks. Like a little Lego that cannot be anything at all on its own. You can walk from the front to the back door in seven or eight steps. I imagine. I don’t remember much, and there’s little in the boxes of family photos that could jar any memory.
The family camera broke when I was born. They didn’t realize it until they developed the film, returning from the one-man booth in the parking lot of the mall to the little red house with an envelope of muddied prints, multiple images purpling one another on each glossy page, a date clear in the frame of each deep dark unreadable mass. The coffee-brown cellophane strips in the subpocket as always.
Surprisingly, mercifully, we have a few photos from back then, from there. They’re all black & white.
In my favorite of those photos, I’m in the backyard, almost two years old. My brothers, I know from other pictures taken that day, are on the swing set. I’m looking directly into the camera, my cheeks filling the hand-me-down hoodie on this cold spring morning. My lips are parted (in speech, in wonder, in exhaustion?).
Below the frame my left arm is in a cast, broken in a fall two weeks earlier while we were jumping on the bed. They took me to the doctor’s because I kept fainting — they took X-rays just in case I had swallowed something. My mother, out of the X-ray frame, no weighted apron to protect her, had to hold my shoulders flush against the cold clean metal, propping me up in case I fainted again. By chance, my left arm fell into the X-ray eye for one shot, the one showing the clean compound break.
You can’t see my broken arm in the photo, and I can’t see the backyard in Google. I could probably navigate the Google Earth eye into the backyard if I wanted to, could pivot and zoom in for a glimpse of something to jar my memory.
What I have instead — dimming greys, this black & white photo, of me alone (rare for a middle child of five). A record of my mother’s love. Her hands on the camera, ignoring her other boys for a split second, a morning at play behind my little red house.