My first memory—the one that shoved me into life away from all the blurred images of infancy—was of my parents opening the door to our new split-level home on Franklin Street. We were moving from a flat-like town home to suburban bliss, complete with garage, basement and full backyard. I have no idea of why this memory should stick in my mind the way it did, except for the sight of my father who was so very tall—everyone said he was as tall as Abraham Lincoln—standing there in front of the door with key in hand, fumbling, cursing, ready to hit something or someone. When he finally managed to get the door open, a knot of fear relaxed in my three-year-old chest, and all of us that had been standing behind—my mother, my brother, sister, and I—stumbled into the dark shadows of the foyer.
There was much to be done. Things had to be moved in: mattresses with their skeleton frames, the big blue and green floral couch, boxes of clothes, dishes, all of Dad's film equipment, his bible, Mom's cocktail dresses from her life in New York—now faded into the past like some crushed paperback novel. Us kids stood patient waiting to be told what to do, as not knowing could cause severe trouble and pain. Duties were doled out and we went to work.
It was fun being in a new house. I always loved promises, and a new house is full of them. A whole block of people sat around us offering promises of friendship and glimpses of a wholesome, happy life like the kind in a Good Housekeeping magazine.
I had a few things at the time to keep me feeling secure. A pillow, a doll and a thumb. I kept them close, especially the first night. For some reason, my father sanctioned that I sleep on the couch alone. You can imagine how frightened I was over this, but didn't say a word. I would do it because I had to, and make no complaints. But when night descended, and I was left alone to a house dark with guttural shifts and shadows, I lost my bravado. I lay there, clutching my blanket, praying for sleep, ordering my eyelids to close down. They wouldn't, and I could not stop the paralyzing fear of what if's and unexplained happenings.
About two in the morning the shape of a man's face peered in the front door, through a small glass rectangle in the upper section. He stayed there for the longest time. I was just sure he was watching me, had come to take me away from my family, knew that I had been left all alone in the dark—an easy victim. Like an animal I kept still, waiting for him to retreat. But then I heard the door handle rattle.
I let out a scream and the whole upper section of the house began to swoosh and thump with movement. Everyone came downstairs. "A man! A man was at the door!"
"She's imaging things," Dad said, moving in his crumply white t-shirt and pajama pants to have a look. The figure was gone.
"I told you she was too young to stay down here by herself!" Mom wasn't afraid to talk back to Dad, though it seldom resulted in any change of his rulings.
"Well, she has to! We all have to grow up sometime." He turned to me. "I don't want to hear another word about imaginary people. You go back to sleep, you understand?"
I swallowed hard and gave a nod. I understood. It had been stupid of me to alert the house the way I had. More than that, it was personal suicide. I counted myself lucky to just be receiving a mere lecture. I made a vow right then and there that if anyone else showed up at the door, I'd keep quiet. But, please God, don't let it be that man again, or a ghost, or huge spider people.
The lights were flicked off again, and they all went upstairs, leaving me to my paranoia. The man never came back.
There's something strange about knowing what you see is real, and not having anyone believe. My first memories became my first secrets.