Seasons and memories have always been so weird to me. I almost get seasonal depression, but not in the season one may suspect.
I get this feeling when it’s cold; I’m content with everything and the most peaceful I have ever felt in my life. My heart almost freezes, as if to stay in that feeling.
There seems to always be a memory associated with this feeling in my head. It’s one of the strongest memories from my childhood, though that doesn’t say much. It’s a haze of little things.
I remember the dress. It was a new, red dress for Christmas.
I remember the bear. Its paws lit up and it played a song. It was my favorite gift that year.
I remember the restaurant. It was right outside the mall, about 30 minutes away from home.
I remember the driveway. It was littered with pine needles.
I remember my parents. They were happy, for once.
Everything was perfect. It is the only time I look back and think I had a picture-perfect childhood. It’s the only time I don’t remember yelling. It’s the only time everyone got along. It was the only time there was love everywhere.
Maybe that’s why I get so happy when it’s cold outside.
On the center of the granite countertop of the mini bar in my grandparents’ house, a home I spent the majority of my childhood in, sits a single polaroid. In that polaroid is a picture of me as a little girl, food all over my face with my dog right in front of me.
That is the only photo I have from my childhood and I can barely remember the story behind the photo. Now, it makes me wonder how many memories I’m missing out on because I can’t remember. This is also because I have no photos to revamp my memory.
I have no photos of myself with long hair, with my parents, or pictures of my dogs. All I have are my memories; the ones blurred between the lines of trauma and bliss that was my childhood, the ones I desperately want to forget and remember all at once.
It’s terrifying that I have such a clear memory of the smallest details nowadays, but I can’t even remember the details of my parents’ faces. The little things in life that were defining aspects of my day to day life as a kid are blurred images in my mind today.
All I would have are these photos, but I don’t even have those.
Now, I have an abundance of videos and photos piling up in my Snapchat memories and phones new and old holding numbers of concert videos that I barely look at anymore. Videos that I refuse to give up, in case I want to look back on them and smile. I have photo albums filled with developed photos, polaroids from prom and random nights with friends, lining the shelves of the desk in my dorm room.
Some people say you need to live in the moment, to put your phone away and let your mind keep the images. But, I can’t. I don’t take photos and shaky videos to post them on my social media; I take them so I can hold on to the memories forever in the literal palm of my hand.
I have no photos from my childhood. Not a single one. Not in a photo album, on my phone, but I wish I did. As much as I try to forget everything from my life before I was ten, I wish the memories weren’t becoming just memories. I wish I could hold on to a photograph and relive the moment all over again.
But, that’s why I take photos all the time through the lens of three different cameras. So in thirty years, I can look back with a clear image and not just rely on the one in my head.
Isn’t it ironic how, being so far away from home, I have never before felt closer to my country?
9,338 kilometers, to be exact. That’s how far away my childhood home is. My best friend, my room, my horses, the forest by my house. I haven’t looked back a lot in the past years; I don’t really miss it all that much. But, from time to time, I wonder how my life would be if I had never left Germany.
How would it be if I would still come home every day to my dog barking and my mom talking on the phone? How would it be if we still had our family dinners every day, with the good, old German Wagenradbrot and Kochkäse. If we still went to the Biergarten after spending all afternoon at the barn; then, we would walk home, probably fight a little bit as usual; and, then, watch some sort of wildlife documentary together because we couldn’t agree on a movie we all liked. What if I still woke up to my dad feeding my dog every morning and the rain bouncing against my blinds?
I’ve realized that this part of my life is over. I haven’t spent my birthday at home since I was thirteen. My siblings are both legal adults now and go to college in California. Next year, I will too, and I will leave another home. That is okay, though, that’s how it goes. But, there isn’t a single day I don’t feel as if I owe an apology to my parents: for taking their daughter away from home too early.
When I was in third grade, I wanted to go see Kung Fu Panda. All my friends were excited about it, but, when my mom broke the news to me that we couldn’t afford to go, I was heartbroken.
For weeks and months, I was upset about it. Until one day after school, when my mom made enough money, she showed up with the DVD and a stuffed panda bear in hand.
I’ve kept that panda bear ever since. Its name is Bob, and it’s a she. I don’t remember why I decided to give a girl panda one of the most boy names I knew at that time, but I do remember the countless questions I was asked, and the countless times I didn’t care to give an exact answer I didn’t even know myself.
What I did know was that I loved that panda. I brought it everywhere. I brought it to my dad’s home on the weekends, to the occasional family dinners, and to the sunset Malibu car rides.
It was around me when I was happy and when I was sad. I held onto it during the silent nights. I held onto it with the grip of my small, but tight hand while trying desperately not to feel alone with my family in the other room.
In a time of darkness, that stuffed animal was the last dwindling light source. It held every bit of my fighting innocence that diminished within me as I grew up, but, as I carried it with me through my life’s adventures, I carried bits of my childhood along with it.
When I moved in with my dad, I brought that stuffed animal with me.
When I went to Argentina for the first time, I brought that animal with me to the hotel, on the plane, and in my backpack on tourist trips.
Every trip I took to Mexico, I’d bring it with me.
When I went to boarding school for the first time, it stayed on my bed. When I went home for weekends, it came with me in my suitcase. When I went to OVS for the first time, it came with me.
After I got back surgery before sophomore year, with all of my emotions ridiculously heightened from the the extreme pain meds that put me under, I had a mental breakdown for hours because I thought I had left this panda at OVS. It didn’t stop until my uncle lifted up my blankets and handed it to me.
I was fifteen then.
Then the Thomas Fire came. In a panic, I only had thirty minutes to pack anything valuable to me. Without hesitation, I grabbed my panda and threw it into the bottom of my bag. The dorm parents told us we would only be gone for the night, but I couldn’t risk it. I cried when I thought I left it at school, I couldn’t imagine what would happen if it burned. I had to bring it with me.
It seems ridiculous how emotionally attached I am to an inanimate object now that I’ve grown up, but it’s still important to me. It stays on my bed and it no longer goes on trips with me; I no longer rely on it. I don’t hold it when I fall asleep. In fact, it sometimes slips onto the floor guiltily in the middle of the night. But, whenever I’m distraught or alone, I grab onto it and hold it as tight as I can.
It may still be a stuffed animal, but it’s so much more.
It’s the last thing I have from my mother. I no longer have photos in my possession or objects from her and, despite all the tragic, dark times, this bear represents one of the few good memories I have of her. It symbolizes the goodness in her which faded away over time, but is still kept as a stored memory I hold onto – literally.
It holds my innocence. My ruined, diminished childhood innocence still stays safe inside that stuffed animal I look at every time I make my bed and I still smile about it.
The panda symbolizes my childhood. Without it, the last remnants of it would vanish.
You’d be surprised how often I write letters to people I can’t send them to. I write them to mom, dad, past friends, future friends, animals, and now I’m writing one to you, my younger self.
I could just see your face reading this. You’d scoff, then toss it aside not wanting to read it. You were never a fan of reading; now you read all the time.
You’d be surprised how much has changed.
I no longer want to be a movie star, nor is UCLA my top choice. In fact, I want to be a lawyer, and I want to go all the way to the other side of the country and pursue law in New York City.
Hannah Montana isn’t my favorite artist anymore, and Wizards of Waverly Place is shockingly not my favorite TV show anymore.
Instead, you went through the embarrassing seventh grade emo phase you shamed Rachel for going through.
If I’m honest with you, younger self, I’m so much different than I thought I’d be.
Some things stayed the same. Logan is still alive, I still love horses, and I still love to sing- though the older I get the worse I seem to become.
But, oh boy, I am definitely not the person I thought I’d become.
I no longer have hair that goes down to my hips, instead it’s right below my shoulders.
I dont have beach blonde hair or sun-kissed, clear skin. I have glasses, and I have freckles, and I have scars.
I don’t go to a big public school where I’m the most popular girl. I don’t go to beach parties on the weekends or sneak out of my bedroom window at night time. Instead, I go to a small boarding school. Instead, I spend weekends going to the movies and riding horses.
I haven’t had a boyfriend yet, but I really could care less. It was something I dreamed of, but now all I dream about is getting into college or passing my math test.
This may not sound appealing to you. You always dreamed of the crazy nights, city lights, and the “celebrity” life, and maybe a glimpse of that dream will come true in NYC, but trust me when I say what’s happened after mom and dad is quite possibly the best thing that could’ve ever happened to us.
Life has gotten so much better. I’m writing this letter contently from the warmth of my bed, music through my headphones. Summer begins in five days, and I’ll be going to Disneyland, one of your favorite places, a week from today. You used to be obsessed with Maroon 5, and I finally see them next Tuesday.
Though you had all these dreams when you were younger, none of them seemed possible due to our circumstances. They were all just dreams in arms reach, yet they seemed so far away.
Well, I’m glad to say that I’ll be a senior in just a few days. That while my dreams weren’t the same as they were when I was younger, they’re coming true, and I hope you’re proud of me.
Were you really a father to me, or simply a mere memory.
Of someone I dreamed would be.
But this letter isn’t a poem to you.
I wrote one to mother months ago, and every week I’ve been pondering whether I should write one to you. I never know what to say to you, or what memories to reminisce, simply because there are none.
Yes, you were a father, but biologically only. You weren’t a father until you had to be. Until, you got the call that mom had died, and you suddenly had to drop that neglectful act and realize you had two kids to raise whom you left behind.
But according to you, you never left us behind, did you?
You’d send $500 a month to keep us barely below the poverty line. You’d take us on Sundays to shopping malls and Jamba Juice trips in hopeless attempts to buy our love and respect, but those are feelings that cannot be bought.
They are earned, but you didn’t earn them.
Yes, I loved you the way any daughter unconditionally loves their father, but there was nothing else to love.
You missed dance performances for business trips, and movie nights during computer drifts.
I have no memory of you besides the fragments of moments spread over the years of my childhood, a childhood I long to forget.
Do I miss you? I wish I could say yes, but there’s nothing left to miss. Yes, you were better than mom, at least at parenting, but at least mom was there. At least she left knowing that she’d always be in my mind.
I wish I could pour my heart into this letter like I did for mom, but I simply can’t. She changed my life, but you weren’t around enough to do that.
I know you tried your best. I really thank you for that. You did everything you could to keep my childhood intact.
You were pure at heart, but for a child who was ignored desperately, pleading for an escape, it would never be enough.
As much as I loved you, like any daughter loves a father…
When we were kids, we spent the entire summer in the pool.
We would bounce around in the water for hours on end, using our feet to push off the sides so many times that we would get blisters on our toes. By the time we got out, pruned and sunburnt, our feet would be bleeding from scraping them on the concrete so much. But we didn’t care. Mom called it pool toe.
I remember how we used to eat breakfast as fast as we could, and then we would play rock-paper-scissors to see who got to jump in first. We swam from morning until night, only pausing for a lunch break of watermelon and pretzels.
Your hands always shriveled up faster than mine did. You used to tell me it meant we were turning into fish, and I was convinced it was true. You also swam faster than I did, but sometimes, if I was lucky, you’d let me win some of our races.
Whenever there was a breeze it would get too cold in the water. To warm up we’d haul ourselves out of the pool and lay with our stomachs down on the concrete deck, like lizards on rocks.
I remember my tangled, sun bleached hair, and the smell of the special shampoo Mom made me use that prevented it from turning green from the chlorine. I remember family commenting on how bloodshot my eyes were, but I wasn’t bothered. I didn’t mind if my eyes were a little bit red and sore, so long as I could avoid the inconvenience of strapping on goggles.
We had changing lights for when we swam at night. I would stand on the diving board, staring down into the water below. The green water meant there were alligators lurking; so I obviously couldn’t jump in, for danger of being eaten. Blue meant sharks, so once again there were some risks. But when the water was pink, it was clear of all man-eating creatures, so it meant I was free to dive in.
When we were kids, we thought days like those would last forever.
I miss it. When we didn’t care if our fingers were shriveled up like prunes, or if our noses were bright red and peeling, or if we had pool toe.