Feb. 23, 1985
It was in my living room.
Everyone was sitting in silence waiting for me, the golden haired seven year old boy, to wake up for the day.
Everyone except one person.
My mother, the marathon runner who was hit by a truck that morning as she was jogging.
My father and my two older siblings were waiting in the living room to tell me she was dead. To them I was still safe, the tan door of my bedroom still closed, my young life still whole.
But I was stirring.
People always say they remember unusual details about major life events. In reality, it’s the same details we always notice. They are just scorched into our memory banks against our will by bad news.
I remember, for example, that my father was sitting cross-legged, and that the negative space between his crossed legs formed a triangle. When I came out of my bedroom for the morning, my dad called me over to sit on his lap. I dropped to my knees and crawled up into his lap through that triangle like a sanitation worker rising from a manhole.
It was Saturday morning. I was ready to play.
When I got onto his lap, I was squirming and wanted to drop back down through the hole.
He put his hands on both of my shoulders and told me that mom had been run over by a car when she was out jogging. She was dead.
I gave him what I’ve now come to call the Antiques Roadshow reaction.
It’s a reaction of genuine incredulity.
It’s the reaction when you’re hit with a piece of information so unfathomable that it has to be a joke…This table I’ve kept a microwave on my whole life is a priceless antique worth millions? This can’t be real.
You don’t really think it’s a joke. You are just unable to hold the news in your brain. It’s too big.
But I really did think it was a joke. I gave my dad a fake laugh and a playful slap on his thigh. I then continued squirming back through the triangle in his legs.
I was too young to know that no father would ever make such a joke to his youngest child.
“Tim,” he said.
I looked up and saw my brother and sister for the first time, sitting under the swinging pendulum of the wall clock on the other side of the room.
Their faces were swollen and wet. Their eyes were red.
They didn’t have to say a single word. That was when I got the message.
That was where I was when I heard my mother was dead, halfway through the gap in my father’s crossed legs on a clear winter’s morning.
*Epilogue: My brother texted me to say I’ve remembered the wrong day for 29 years. It wasn’t a Saturday at all, but a Tuesday. The reason everyone was home that morning was because it was President’s Day, which in 1985 fell on February 19th.
All this time, I’ve had such a strong memory of where I was that I fudged the date to explain it.