BY LAUREN LADOCEUR
At the age of five, I had a limited view of the world - a four-foot view, to be exact. To me, grown ups were giants with giant clothes and giant food. They had giant conversations and giant silences.
One of my first memories of my family is from their knees down. I think it’s a dinner party. The late afternoon light cuts through the shades and highlights the kitchen floor. I am surrounded by the sounds of clinking glasses and droning conversations. I quietly weave between the grownups, looking for my sparkled blue bouncy ball, which has mysteriously escaped me.
I know that’s Aunt Sheryl by the refrigerator, tapping her small pointy feet with her black, skinny legs. And Uncle Thom is in the corner - his fat feet spilling out of his cracked leather shoes. Grandma and Bill sit close together with their polyester orange pants and tan shoes. The man with the snakeskin cowboy boots is my favorite. He’s the loud one who throws me over his shoulders and spins me around.
Someone is missing. Where are those blue tennis shoes? Where is Dad?
I tug at Uncle Rob’s denim jeans and wonder if Grandma yells at him for the gaping holes in the knees.
“Uncle Robby, make me dizzy.”
But before he can swoop me up, I hear Mom’s clacking high heels coming down the hallway. It’s the same wherever we go. The same sharp click hits each step in perfect time, without fail.
“Robert, don’t even think about it.”
“Come on, Sis. Let me have some fun,” says my uncle.
“We have to go now. Dad’s waiting for us.”
Mom zips up my lavender coat to my chin, catching a bit of my skin. I start to scream, but Mom is in too much of a rush to pay attention. Her giant smooth hand grabs my stubby fingers. Her step quickens and the once familiar clacking disappears.
“Mom, why did we hafta leave Aunt Sheryl’s?”
“Because Lauren, Daddy needs us.”
Mom turns the silver ignition key and starts out the driveway, just missing the neighbor’s cat. My seat belt remains unlocked, something my mother usually doesn’t leave unnoticed.
Dad is sitting alone, watching the Bill Cosby show. He sits in his prized sienna La-Z-Boy, feet up, with a blanket covering his legs.
There’s no answer.
“Lauren, go get into your pajamas and brush your teeth,” Mom says.
When I come back in my white flannel nightgown and favorite stuffed doll, Mom and Dad are sitting on the couch. Seeing this as a good chance to claim that holiest of holy recliners, I quickly jump into the worn leather.
A large collection of orange pharmacy bottles is spread over the low oak wood table. Mom takes a small pair of scissors from her black nurse’s bag lying on the floor. I watch her as she leans down to my father’s foot. Except that I can’t see his left foot.
They turn to me when they hear my gasp.
“When did that happen?”
Mom keeps at her work, continuously wrapping white gauze around the stump that was once my father’s foot.
“Daddy had an operation where they had to cut off his foot.”
“But why? How is he going to walk? Did it hurt?”
My father turns his leg from my view.
“Daddy’s foot got sick, Lauren. It’s from the Diabetes. Remember?”
“But how’s he going to walk?” I ask.
“He’ll have a brand-new plastic foot. It will look exactly like the old one. Don’t worry. He doesn’t even feel it.”
Mom’s bare toes curl and squirm, and I know that everything is not all right.
The bad thing about being five, beyond the vertical challenge, is the lack of linear time. Days, weeks, and months run together. Memory consists of chopped-up scenes and missing gaps. Christmas takes forever to come around, and timeouts are a cruel and unusual punishment.
I’ve been at Grandma’s house for who knows how long. I’ve been coming over here a lot lately. I haven’t seen Daddy in days or maybe weeks, and Mom has been going to wherever he’s staying.
Grandma watches me play dress up with her old costumes in the bedroom. I know it’s past my bedtime because she’s tapping her slippered feet. She’s probably worried that Mom will get mad because she’s letting me stay up so late.
The bells from the kitchen door ring, and we know Mom is home. Grandma suddenly stands up and walks into the hallway.
“Stay here, Lauren.”
“But Mom’s back.”
Grandma leaves me alone in front of the mirror in her large bedroom. I am staring at myself in this enormous pink ball gown. But it’s late and cold, and I don’t want to be here anymore.
I hear Mom’s familiar heels, and I run after them. My aunt, grandmother, and mother stop me in their semi-circle.
Mom lowers herself to rest on her knees, making herself eye-level with me. Her eyes are glazed over and red. Black streaks run down her cheeks. She takes a deep breath and holds in the hiccups.
“Mom, what’s wrong? Tell me,” I said, petting her short brown hair.
It’s the first time I’ve really looked at her. Her face, smile, even her voice is small.
She didn’t have to finish. I knew he was gone.
I leaned over her tiny shoulders and held my mother in my arms.