I’ve been told, your first memory of me is kind of messy. So this story goes, I am two years old (really dad… first memory of me and I am two?!) Regardless, I’m awake and alert and standing in my crib admiring my first piece of art work. I’ve smeared the poop in my diaper all along the wall behind me. I like to think I was painting a picture of what I was seeing at the time. Art imitates life and you and mom were going through some tough times… the life of young, sleepless parents could probably have been described as shitty. And hey, I guess I’ve always been a crappy artist. The good thing is I’ve got my words.
The first memory I have of you, I am a week shy of my 9th birthday. (Really… nine?!) Sure this isn’t my first memory. There are plenty of other moments that could come back into this big brain of mine. But the reason why this is the memory I’m sharing is not because it’s the first memory I have of you, it’s because it’s best vacation I remember from my childhood. It’s the creme-de-la-creme of memory lane. It’s how I always want to remember you. It’s how I always wanted to feel with you. It’s how I always wanted to feel in myself.
I had just finished third grade and as luck would have it, and because of a business trip, you were set to head out to California. And since my birthday was coming up, you decided that you would take me on this trip. A very special early birthday present. Your sister, her husband and their two sons (one of whom is my favorite cousin) lived in Laguna Beach. Cousin Sam was also just getting done with third grade and was also about to turn nine. He was also the first and only cousin who I went to grade school with. He would double as the person with whom I smoked my first cigarette… who would come up from Boston and get drunk at UNH with me… who would travel far and wide to party like a pirate when I lived in the Caribbean… who flew out to Hawaii see me and the Kiwi when we got Maui’ed… who drove my car clear cross country when me and that Kiwi wanted to do a road trip of the US of A but wanted to start in California… and when I started my first online venture into entrepreneurship, it was this Cousin Sam would become my web developer.
I once found a quote that said… “cousins are truly the first friends you have as a child. No one will ever understand your crazy family like your cousins.” and that message holds more truth for Cousin Sam than for anyone else. He was the closest thing I had to a twin. Actually, the only one thing my Cousin Sam would always be that I would never, is older than me. Five days to be exact. His birthday is on June 19th… and mine would always quickly follow on the 24th.
But back to you, dad… this was the trip of a lifetime for a loner, rebel, middle child like me. See I never remember it just being me and you. It was always the three of us girls together with you. Hell, even my older sister had your undivided attention for the first two years of her life. And when you and mom sent Christina and I abroad while you were getting divorced, my baby sis Sanna was even able to have it be just the three of you guys during that time. But for me… it was never the first, nor the last. I was always just stuck in the middle.
But for this year… in June of 1992, for this final year before double digits… the last year before you would get remarried and before you and Teri would bring me two more brothers… for this year… I was set to have one of the best birthdays of my life. This was the year that I got to celebrate the day I was born with just you, my daddio, in the golden state. Just like an only child.
The memories from that trip live forever in my current and past mind. I can always go into that memory bank of trips and take out that video and replay as much as I want.
Me and you, on the flight from Logan to LAX. You renting a cobalt blue convertible and the two of us singing at the top of our lungs to “Cheeseburger in Paradise…” You and me dad, at SeaWorld where you could see my backbrace through my white bike shorts and oversized pink tee shirt as I bent over to feed the dolphins. Me and you and my cousins on Splash Mountain at Disneyland, and that photo of the four of us all mid laugh/scream and Cousin Sam’s face so red with anxiety you would have thought his head would have popped off. Me and Cousin Sam and you at the arcade on the pier where we played Street Fighter until my thumb was numb. Me and Cousin Sam having a double cake birthday party. You and I holding hands on the car ride back to the airport. “Come Monday” playing with the top down, and that sense of melancholy settling in, when I started to realize that the best week of my life was coming to a close.
Yes… those were the glory days. That trip filled me to the brim with enough love for you, Dad, forever. That one week birthday trip keeps me California Dreaming for the last few decades and makes up for any and all shortcomings.
Because you know what? You know that way that I felt on that Highway 1? The way that I connected with you and the time we had out there together… with all your undivided attention? Turns out I’d learn that that’s my love language. Quality Time and being totally in the moment is what unconditional love is. For me, that is the best present of all.
And hey, I might be right when I think that’s all any kid wants. To just feel like they matter. Like they are seen. To just play with them. Sing with them. Hold their hand and treat their birthday like it’s the best day of both of your lives. And sure, I’m a realist and we all know every birthday can’t be this special, when you’re one of six kids… but in my brain… the best gift you ever gave me, is that I can relive my ninth birthday for the rest of my life.
Just me and my daddio. Driving down the highway of life… Heaven on earth with an onion slice… Not too particular, not too precise… we’re just two, cheeseburgers in paradise!
And thank You Dad. For Bringing Me Into this Golden World. Happy Day.