Tina was the one swaying the swing, and from that dreadful day on, she was forever banned from our grounds. I still do remember her, when she was a ten year old girl, and it is not a recall from a photograph, as we never had a photograph taken together. I remember her dark hair, and her full stature, as she was a tall and a bit plump girl for her age. "Lying Tina, fat Tina!", was all I would hear of her afterwards, as my father yelled against her. "She is lying and fat!" He repeated it often, as if these two characterizations could never be stated one without another. As if by saying that she was fat, he was proving in a matter-of-factually way that she was lying too.
But what I remember of her was her warmth, and I clearly remember that she was real. That her body was real, unlike the almost unreal bodies of people in my family, that were slipping under your hand as fast as a weasel. She would not back down if I were to touch her hand, or lean on her, and her hands that held me, a little girl of three, were strong for a ten year old. I was not afraid when she would lift me a bit to set me safely in the swing seat.
I do not remember the fall. Not even the hot and spicy taste of pain, that I knew repeatedly throughout my childhood, on other instances. Nor do I remember the aftermath. They say I was barely conscious for quite a while. A hematoma the size of another head of a three-year old formed, starting from my forehead that doubled in size, and stretching towards the lower portion of my face. I had to be closely monitored, not to fall asleep, as doctors said I might never wake up. After I survived those first few critical days, sleeping only a few hours in a row, they said we all just have to be patient, to see how the surrounding tissue is going to absorb all that blood that made an ugly blue and black swelling over my, by then disturbingly deformed, face.
They say my father instantly took the swing and threw it in the garbage. I would often imagine a light blue children's swing with the frame resembling a tent or a roof, standing lonely and ostracized next to a garbage can, waiting for those who were collecting metal scraps for sale to acquire it.
As many other things in my life, the story of the swing became one that was retold in always the same way, whomever told it, as if there was no other way to tell it but by using the same set of expressions. Tina was fat and lying, and she swayed me too hard. My father was furious, short-tempered as always, and had exhibited his fury on both the swing and on Tina, exiling them forever from the realm of our garden. I never asked anything, since I did not remember anything, and there seemed to be no appendix to the story, apart from the exact words that even I already knew by heart.
Time passed, and I was almost ten, when one day I saw Tina, walking on the other side of the street. Her house and garden bordered ours, in its lower portion, but I stopped going there after the incident. There was a fence between us that I was able to go through as a three year old, and could still remember the joy of entering their house, playing with their tiny Pekinese dog, and helping myself with sugar candy that was always displayed in a lovely crystal lidded box. She did not change much, I thought that day when I saw her, and as I spotted her dark eyes raising to meet mine, probably unintentionally, I said "Hello", and nodded, not making too big a fuss about it.
Tina, however, stopped frozen mid-step, across the street, and I could see some turmoil within her, as she just stood there. I was sheltered by the shade of lilacs that rose on both sides of the gate, making a delightful botanical arch, so when she stopped, I thought that perhaps she heard me, but did not see me, as it often happened to me. People often failed to see me.
But she did see me, all right, she just wasn't sure what to do next. I could see on her face both fear and determination, when she approached, crossing the street, and moving closer to our gate.
It was fine weather on that day, and I enjoyed the outdoors, few of our cats making me company on the sunlit terrace in front of the house. I wore a sleeveless orange tee shirt, too large for me, so it looked like a dress, as it stretched to my knees. Tina was far from casual, she had a black dress on, with some lace embellishing the cleavage portion. She looked all grown up.
The first thing she said when she approached the fence was: "Do you know who I am?", and I thought to myself "How funny of her to ask that", as if thousands of years have passed since our last meeting, and not only seven. But this too often happened to me, that people would assume I do not remember. Still, there was an astonishing array of things I did remember about my life, very detailed, very precise. And there were moments in which I would feel as if I were taken away from the moment, and I would see myself and other people from afar, but not be able to hear a single word, or to make sense of the situation.
Unfortunately, her first words are almost the only thing I remember, as the moment she approached me I felt as if I were thrown by a slingshot up to the clouds, and could see myself down there in orange, and Tina in black, under white and violet lilacs, talking about something terribly important on the fence. The only other parts of conversation I can remember, that I struggled to hear, as words were so indistinguishable as if coming up through water, were: "I always worried about you so much, and my conscience would not let me go past you today as I always did, I had to make sure that you are all right".
I cannot remember my reply, nor can I remember the rest of the conversation. I just remember that when I turned from the fence I was somehow different, and I instantly tried to remember what was spoken, but could not. "The fall" I thought, "it had to do with the fall".
We stopped living with my father that year, and my mother and I moved into an apartment downtown. Here, in the house of my childhood, were now residing my grandmother, and her two sisters. My father, however, even though he found a separate bachelor-type single room flat downtown, would not have it to be completely out of our lives. If he could not live with us, he made sure he was there often enough, usually when she was away, under the pretense of keeping me company.
I knew that my company was not the true reason he came, as he would come along sometimes even when I was not there, and he would eat the food from our refrigerator. He would rummage through our library, stating that my mother did not read, and that all of those books were his anyway. He would search for things he could not describe if I offered the help to find them, and sometimes he would dig through drawers full of papers, looking for something only he could recognize.
After my conversation with Tina, forgotten even before it happened, I desperately thought to myself why such things keep repeating to me. Why could I not remember what she said. But I remembered it had to do with the fall, so I asked my grandmother, who was in the house, if she remembers that day. "Of course", she said, "Tina swayed you, and your father had thrown the swing out". Like I did not know that.
I wondered if there was some documentation about it. I searched and I searched, reminding myself of my father, rummaging through papers. I did not find anything. There must have been some doctor's report, an X-ray at least, I thought, as it was such a perilous fall. But nothing was to be found.
Instead, in one of the drawers I found a medical record from my elementary school. Perhaps there was something about the fall, a notice, a recommendation. Medical record consisted of a pale yellow jacket, with my name on it, the number of my file inscribed in large figures written using a marker, and a number of thinner, gray papers in between.
Among them, there was a drawing. It represented a person, a male figure, with long legs in wide pants, with tight jacket, a smile, and, amazingly, a hat. Embellishing one side of a hat, there was a flower, all with the central circle and petals. It was drawn just in plain pencil. I otherwise loved colour. Everything I did was very colorful. But I remembered this particular drawing, and I remembered why it was without colour, and I remembered the reason it was in my medical record.
The lady psychologist, just before I enrolled the first grade, spoke to me twice, as it was an obligatory part of the enrollment procedure. I remembered that first time with unease, as it did not go well. She discussed something with my mother behind the glass door. I could see my mother explaining, and she was as fake as when she was laughing, like when she would insert the word "Wait, hahaha, wait, hahaha" in between her laughs. Why would you ask anyone to wait while you laugh? Wasn't the laughter intended to be shared? And would not they wait anyway? I would hear her laughter from across the house sometimes, or down in the garden, where she would entertain guests, and I would imagine the impatient acquaintances, whom she had to ask to wait for her to laugh her heart out. She did not laugh now, to be sure, but she did seem as if she was repeating "Wait, wait", as if she could not catch up with whatever was being said. She always found everything around her to be completely out of her hands.
So, the next time we came to talk to psychologist, I felt as if everything was down to me. I knew it. I had to do well with the drawing. It was funny, though, as I was very good at drawing for my age. I was drawing for longer than I was talking, and even walking. The moment I could discern a pencil from a random object, I was drawing, and the paper and colours were always on my lap. So it felt strange to be scared of such a simple task.
When we entered the psychologist's office, she asked my mother to wait in an armchair covered in gray-brown upholstery, next to a glass coffee table. I was right, I though, this time it really was all about me. I got the paper and a pencil. "Would you like to draw?", psychologist asked me, predictably, with a smile that was very commanding. I felt as if I were tested, but could not understand what for. "Would you like to draw your father for me?"
It seems strange that I could not remember the talk with Tina, that day on the fence, and I could remember the exact words and the accompanying feelings from that meeting in the psychologist's office, four years before. When she asked me to draw my father, I instantly knew I would do no such thing. It was not that I was completely disobedient of authority, I simply had developed my own ways to go around the rules. I was going to make something that she will be pleased with instead. "Let me see", I thought to myself, "when she says father, that means a male figure.", and I said out loud: "I am better at drawing females than men" I looked straight at her, no matter how painful it was to me, "princesses in particular".
I tried this way to excuse myself from drawing him, but it was not going to happen. I could not draw him as a cat, or just a flower, as she would immediately spot that something is off. I was too good in drawing to get myself off the hook with such a simple fraud.
"Just draw your father any way you like, this drawing is not to be graded. I would just like to see how you draw him", said the psychologist, and I thought to myself "Oh, shoot".
All right, I though, so a man has to have legs and shoes, a jacket and let me put a hat on his head. But the moment I did, I was sorry. She would instantly know that I am lying, as no men wore hats these days. She will certainly ask me about the hat. My cheeks turned red, as I thought about it, and I realized that she was observing me under her glasses.
She had a straight light blonde hair, much like Crystal from the Dynasty. And a suite to match. She was not as pretty as Crystal, but she was thin and had beautiful blue eyes, so perhaps she would have liked the comparison. But I was still very worried about the hat. So I decided to draw a decoy, and I came up with the flower. I never in my life felt so insincere as that morning, I was a criminal committing a terrible fraud!
As, you see, I would have never drawn my father that way. If I had not been watched, and if this were not a task, I would have drawn him completely differently.
Instead, the drawing I turned in was a result of a careful auto-censorship. My mother was an accomplice, as she sat there, next to a coffee table, praying to whomever she imagined held the power, for her life of deceit and neglect not to be exposed. If I were to bleed to death, she would just take it out of sight, blood and guts altogether, so that her world remains unshattered. And now I had to take care of us both.
So she could continue to lie. To lie about how Tina was fat and lying.
And suddenly, I could only hear the words spoken across the fence, coming as if through something denser than water, of Tina whispering to me: "Your father is not who he pretends to be", and I knew I finally deciphered what she was trying to say all along.
"Your father is nothing like he pretends to be" her face in pain screamed at me over the fence.
I finished the drawing with the flower, and deeply dissatisfied, handed it to psychologist. I knew it was nothing like my father, as I knowingly altered the truth. Once again, I felt as the door of hope closed on me. Mother would be glad.