I was beginning to think I had made the wrong decision by picking up the phone. Maybe I needed eight more years of therapy before I could make this call.
"Well —" I stammered, "I want to ask you a couple of questions about my childhood."
This was not a subject we liked to talk about and it usually led to a fight.
"As you know, I don't really remember much, but I'll tell you what I do."
"Great. Thanks. That's all I want. Did I say I already forgive you for everything and I don't blame you?"
"What was that, honey?"
I thought she had probably put down the phone to check her hair or look out the window or anything to avoid what I was about to ask.
"Did I by any chance…" Oh, God. All of a sudden all over my body I had the creepy feeling that everything I had spent the last eight years remembering was a lie. I had heard rumors that kids had been influenced by their therapists to remember bad things so that they stayed in therapy longer and hated their parents and attached to the people they paid to listen to their problems. Anyway, if I was crazy and had remembered all wrong, she wouldn't confirm my first memory. "Did I… ever… run away?"
I couldn't stop now. The words were already out of my mouth. "When I was two and a half. There was a fire in the house when I got home or when I was found. Was there a fire? Was I gone? Do you remember?"
We had lived in a town house in a place in Ohio that I remembered as Something-or-other Heights but could remember nothing else about it. When I mentioned it to other people throughout my life, some would suggest, "Cedar Heights?" or "Shaker Heights?" I decided it was Shaker Heights. We were very religious and I connected religion with the Shakers. I don't even know if the Shakers are religious, but they sure have nice furniture. Shaker Heights was also supposedly a very nice area of Ohio outside Cleveland, and I knew that my parents always liked to say that we lived someplace that was expensive to the ear.
I thought my eardrums would burst.
"How on earth do you remember that? I haven't thought of that in ages."
When she said ages I thought of a song my mother used to always sing around the house. Rock of ages, cleft for me… let me hide myself in thee… I never did know what cleft meant, but we were the absolute best at hiding behind or in anything, especially Jesus or Jesus' rock or just simply behind a rock — any rock.
"So I did?"
I couldn't believe it. If this was true, then most likely it would all be true. The running away was the most obscure of memories and the oldest. "So it's true? The running away and the fire?"
"Well, I don't know if I would have called it running away. You were missing," she clarified.
"And the fire? Was there a fire by the time I showed up again?"
"There was a fire that day. Yes, I remember a fire. What's this about?"
We lived in a row of town houses as I remembered it. Ours was at one end. I had snuck out and down the row to another two-story structure where a friend or playmate of mine lived. I don't remember what I was feeling as I did it. I don't recall if I walked or crawled or if I was crying or screaming or if I had already learned that that got me nowhere. By the time I returned, or was brought home or found, who knows which, the house was burning down.
"Dad set that fire, Mom."