My first memory is of sitting on a small brick wall. I was three, as was my sister, Sarah, who sat next to me. My dad stood in front of us.
We lived on the bottom floor of a two family house. It was small and contained, and stifling. We were balls of energy and we needed release; we needed to move.
My dad would take us all over the neighborhood, to different playgrounds. We played “Old Man,” a variation of tag where my dad was always it. He would stand under the slide trying to grab our legs as we ran up and down. We shouted, “Old Man, you can’t catch us,” while sticking out our tongues, and shrieking in delight as he pretended to not be able to keep up.
We could do this for hours. Like playing fetch with a rambunctious puppy, my dad chased us until we were ready to drop. Then we’d go home and feel a little less stir-crazy on the bottom floor of that two-family house, an apartment and yard that never truly felt our own.
But on the day of my first memory, Sarah and I got a second wind as we walked home from the park, We saw a small brick wall, separating someone’s yard from the sidewalk. Though the wall would fall well below my hip today, at the time it felt like being on top of the world.
The wall was stepped, with three different levels. Sarah and I walked up the first one together, and then we both climbed to the second. She sat down and dangled her legs, her sneakers hanging half a foot from the ground. She was content with her medium-level ascent.
But, I ever the daredevil, wanted to go one step higher, I wanted to go all the way to the top.
So I climbed up and sat down. I was just far enough from Sarah to really test my dad’s wingspan.
My sister and I were a tag team. We shared a room; our two little red iron beds were set up directly across from each other so when we opened our eyes in the morning we were each other’s first sights. When my dad would try to put us down for naps, one of us would wait until he was trying to get the other to settle down, and then we would pop up and create a bigger disruption so he had to switch sides. The day we stopped being required to take naps was the day that Sarah drilled him in the head with her bottle from across the room as he tried to prevent my escape.
As we sat on this wall, on this sunny afternoon, we fed off each other’s manic energies. We both began rocking forward, our tiny fists clasping onto the concrete ledge of the brick wall. My dad put his arms out in both directions, trying to create safety restraints for both of us.
As he kept us from falling, Sarah and I were progressively having more and more fun. We kept rocking our bodies harder and harder. Sarah went too hard first, and my dad lunged to keep her from hitting the ground.
Unfortunately, this coincided with my strongest jolt, as well, and as he attended to her, I let go of the wall mid-rock and allowed my body to be propelled straight forward.
My dad saw me begin my descent, but he could not make his way back over in time.
I smashed my head into the sidewalk and learned there is no one who can catch you every time you think it’s safe to let go.
My memory of the day ends there, but the rest of the afternoon has been filled in for me. I cried for a bit after my head hit the ground, but I generally seemed okay, at first. My dad walked Sarah and me the few blocks back to our apartment.
At home, he became increasingly concerned. I was disoriented, my pupils were huge and my eyes were out of focus. When he spoke to me, I didn’t seem to process what he was saying. He called my mom, who was at work. She drove home immediately. They left Sarah with a neighbor and drove me to the hospital.
At the hospital, one of the attendants wrote down that I hit my head by falling out of the shopping cart at the grocery store. When the doctor came in to begin asking my parents questions about the incident, they started talking about the wall. He grew suspicious, but eventually he believed their story.
The doctor diagnosed my concussion, and announced that I had to spend the night in the hospital. My mom left to go take care of Sarah, but my dad stayed with me; he felt guilty that he had not been able to protect me.
I remember staying up late that night watching TV. I had been throwing up and couldn’t eat solid foods, so I was given an endless supply of popsicles, instead.
The next day, when I woke up, my mom brought me a plastic bullfrog to play with while I rested in a hospital bed. It was the kind of plastic frog whose mouth was open and a hard piece of plastic blocked off the wall to its cavernous interior. The piece of plastic was solid, unmoving, save for a small hole. The opening was like a pinprick through which you could squeeze hard and bring water into the frog’s would-be stomach. Then you could squash it with your toddler might to spray water into the face of an unsuspecting victim.
I was concussed, and in a linoleum chamber instead of a pool; I had to entertain myself by holding the frog in front of my face. I repeatedly compressed the bullfrog, blowing hot gusts of polyvinyl scented air into my nostrils.
I remember being sad when the doctor came in and told me that it was okay for me to leave.
I wasn’t afraid of the hospital; I liked it. There was something comforting about the constant ruckus in the halls; the carts being pushed and the reverberating chatter as nurses made their rounds.
I liked the TV, with the remote I controlled; I liked the seemingly endless supply of channels. But, most of all, there was something I liked about being sick, about being able to curl up into a little ball of vulnerability. It was like having a giant sleepover with my dad in a hotel, but in a place even more curious. I liked being brought gifts, and having people concerned about me, constantly asking me how I felt, how I was doing.
I liked people feeling sorry for me.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay in the hospital forever.
When I was little I loved medicine. My parents kept Orange Triaminic in the condiment section of the fridge. Whenever the door opened, there it was, right at eye level.
That glowing bottle of citrus elixir called for me.
“I don’t feel good,” I would sniffle to my dad.
“Get some sleep,” he would reply.
“Can I have some of the orange stuff?” I would ask, lightly coughing.
“Okay,” he would say. “Go grab it.”
I would walk to the fridge, fighting the urge to skip; I was giddy inside. It was my childhood version of picking your poison. Though it was never much a decision, at all. I knew what I wanted. I had been thinking about it for hours.
He would pour some of the syrup onto a spoon and I would lap it down. It was like candy, but better. Candy tasted good, but Triaminic felt good.
I took pleasure in knowing the stuff was moving through my body, fighting off any sickness.
Even if I knew I was not sick, per se, I figured there was nothing wrong with taking a little extra precaution.
When my parents bought us Flintstone Vitamins, I always wanted to take more than they gave me.
“You can’t take more, or you’ll get sick,” my mom said.
But to my childhood mind, that seemed so counterintuitive. How could medicine be bad for you? How could something that felt good be wrong? Shouldn’t taking more of something just make it work better?