Ignore the clairvoyance, and I’m your typical high school senior with an AWOL father and a mother sliding into poverty.
Viewed from another angle, I’m the unlikely product of Kent State University. Dad ran into Mom during their sophomore year, invited her back to his dorm room. Together, they made a zygote before trading surnames.
Parental fury evicted them from the freewheeling, quasi-adult world of college. A few months after my birth, Dad left Ohio for parts unknown. I have no idea where he is or even if he’s alive, but he darts through my thoughts on this faultless spring day. Maybe I’m more like him than I’d suspected, driving off from home without plan or reason to appreciate the splendor of blue-tipped mountains with the breeze fondling my hair.
When I was barely out of diapers, Mom capped off a final argument with her parents by storming out of middle class suburbia. She moved us to a rat hole on Cleveland’s near east side. Nothing of those early years took root in my memories until the traumatic events of Judo Day.
A week before Christmas, Mom announced we were heading into the snowdrifts to see the holiday lights downtown. It isn’t worth conjecture as to why she didn’t plan a leisurely drive through one of Cleveland’s prettier neighborhoods, Pepper Pike or Gates Mills, to view festive lights from the comfort of her car. A reasonable woman doesn’t take a four year old on a Sunday walking tour in blizzard conditions, but this is my mother we’re talking about. If, in her present incarnation, she forgets to pay the electric bill so often that I own a flashlight and an unlimited supply of candles, imagine her dizzy grasp of reality when she wasn’t much older than I am today.
So off we went, Mom in a heavy woolen coat, mittens and a hat. I was stuffed into an oversized sweatshirt and a raincoat of pink vinyl. Mom hadn’t remembered to replace the toddler coat I’d outgrown the previous winter.
Snow fell in blinding sheets. We trudged from a parking lot near East 9th with the cold biting at our cheeks. Our breath left milky clouds in our wake. Cleveland was a ghost town in the Sunday twilight, the wind groaning in fearsome gusts between buildings tall enough to scrape the sky. Beneath mushrooming layers of white, holiday lights strung on lampposts pulsed with dim cheer. In search of an extravaganza, Mom led me along street after street. My teeth chattered with a ferocity that made my jaw ache; she spat venom at the disappearing sidewalk. The angrier she got, the higher she yanked up the collar of her coat and the faster she moved. Eventually I lost sight of her footprints in the snow.
One moment they were there. The next, they’d disappeared beneath a fresh layer of white.
Snowflakes crusted my lashes. Blinking, I scanned the empty street corner of a frigid planet. The water seeping into my boots was making my toes numb.
No one, not a soul in sight.
Terror is reserved for children unceremoniously abandoned. I cried with such energy, the tears formed icy streams beneath my eyes.
I’d howled myself hoarse when my first experience with knowing struck with the force of a freight train. The here-and-now, gone. Though I was too young to understand the thrilling glimpses of the universe, the parade of planets, stars and space debris whipping past, the utter shock extinguished my tears.
One moment I was a child lost. The next, I was flung across the cosmos. My brain expanded beyond the illusory barrier of my skull. Soaring across the galaxy, I witnessed colliding atoms woven into a galaxy of brilliant light.
Too quickly the image fell away. A word in neon green popped into view. Judo.
The route to salvation appeared before my startled eyes. I saw myself walking into a building not far from East 9th. I’d find a partition separating the empty lobby from the noise in back. I would call a woman with a thick waist and deeply lined eyes.
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