East Paterson, N.J. was the city of the earliest childhood home. I was born in Queens, NY, but don’t remember it at all. There were several brick steps leading up to our apartment. Vague memories tease me as I picture myself on the stoop. I have a picture of Mike and me on this stoop. Mike is my older brother who is autistic, low functioning, and has never spoken.
If one walked in the front door, the dining area was straight ahead. I remember the dining room with a yellow/orange tinge, a hazy memory. This was the scene of the great orange-juice race, which I will never forget as long as I live. I don’t know where I got the childish idea that I could beat the undisputed juice drinker (my father), but I can still feel the tension as we both waited for the crack of the starter’s pistol. I lost. It was the agony of defeat, one of life’s major disappointments, or… character building. Maybe the orange tinge was like the color ‘red’ for Marnie, the title character in the Hitchcock film. But I’m being overly dramatic here.
Walking in the front door and making a left turn would take one through the living room to my room. It was at the end of the living room, to the right. My parents’ room was to the left. The living room had a grayish rug and a chair immediately to the left of the door as one entered from the outside. Once, my mother was sitting in that chair with her feet up on an ottoman. She and Dad asked me if I wanted to feel my little brother kicking. I was nervous about touching even then, but I felt her anyway. I had a mental picture of a shoe coming out of her stomach, but they told me everything was ok. I still didn’t like the idea. I couldn’t feel him kicking, which I suppose, was a good thing.
I used to play with my blockbusters in the living room. They were orange with red stripes, made out of cardboard. I used to build places I could be in. After that it was fun to knock them all down. I also used the living room was a place to crawl through on my belly under my blanket. Of course, I only did this when there was company. I couldn’t hear what was going on from my bedroom. I’m sure I used to watch and listen to Mikey, but I don’t remember him from East Paterson. Above is a picture of Mom and Mike in the living room.
There are other things I remember about East Paterson where I lived. The rainy day when I was waiting for the school bus: the smell of exhaust (probably leaded gasoline). I can smell that today sometimes and I’m brought right back to the door of my old apartment. I even get the ‘before-school’ butterflies, when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic.
There was the time I got my head caught in the rocking chair. I couldn’t get it out. Neither could my Mom. She called the police. They got it out for me. I was embarrassed on the bus the next day. The driver asked me about it. It made the newspaper. I still have the article.
One thing I have a hard time remembering: Events connected with my older brother. That’s very curious. I can only see glimpses of him in my mind’s eye. Where could he have been?
Dad says to always remember that Michael is my brother. I do. The doc says that people don’t remember things because they are too painful. My memories of Mike are like fleeting things one sometimes sees from the corner of one’s eye. All of what must have been a maelstrom of activity have coalesced into just a few hazy recollections. There are more snapshots than recollections. I don’t think the doc is right in my case. But really, where was my older brother during my first four years? Why don’t I remember Mike from then?