Brown & Gold Shag Carpet

Brown & Gold Shag Carpet

This is my first memory.

It is not a memory of a birthday party that none of my friends attended, or a picnic that was ruined by an army of mosquitoes, or a haircut that made me look foolish despite my insistence to have it styled that way. It is not a memory of a beach on a warm, summer day, the sensation of cool, green grass between my toes, or even the scent of the breeze. It is not a quiet, sneaking thing that hides in the recesses of my mind.

This is my memory that I cannot shake, and it is my first.

I was sitting on the floor of the living room; a brownish golden light poured into the room. The early morning sunrise made the off-white blinds and tan curtains seem like stained glass. There was a musty scent in the air that pervaded the entire apartment and made some first time visitors gag upon entrance.

A deep blue sofa, two lamps, a television sitting on top of an end table, the whirring of the refrigerator in the kitchen, the silent whoosh of the ceiling fan.

I must have been around four years old. My mother, stepfather, and I were living in a two bedroom apartment in Batavia, Illinois—the town where Mary Todd Lincoln was institutionalized after her husband, Abraham, was murdered while the two of them were watching a play.

I have always found it a little eerie that I lived less than a mile away from that institution. I find it equally eerie that the city of Batavia has converted that institution into a low-income housing complex. I suppose that in this age of consumerism, not even insanity is a monument worth commemorating.

I was watching Saturday morning cartoons, sitting there on a patch of hideous, brown and gold shag carpet. It was the kind of carpet that if one were to shuffle across it, one would not be surprised to kick up a cloud of dust, some spare change, or possibly even a Volkswagen Beetle.

And it covered almost the entire apartment. The living room, the hallway, the two bedrooms, the closets and even half of the kitchen. Only the bathroom was spared the sight of that horrible carpet.

I didn't mind so much the way it looked or even the peculiar odor that was deeply embedded in its fibers. I hated, though, the way it made my skin itch. I sat cross-legged on the floor every Saturday morning, directly in front of the television and for the duration of whatever show I was watching, I would be relentlessly scratching at my legs. My mom would always remind me, in less than amiable tones, that the couch was a mere few feet away from me.

I'd like to believe that she was looking out for me and was merely trying to protect me from contracting some sort of horrible disease that was probably wound in the fibers of the carpet. Or perhaps she was more concerned about the wellbeing of my eyes or even my legs. It would have been a shame were my retinas to have been fried due to them being glued to the screen.

As true as both of these fates could have very well been and as much as I would like to believe that Mom had carefully considered both of them and was merely looking out for me, I find it more likely that she was simply annoyed with my constant scratching and was looking for a way to get me off of the floor. I find it even more likely that she didn't want me watching television at all and would have rathered I read a book or participated in some other activity that required my utmost silence—like sitting in the corner, staring at the wall, or playing in the street.

But that's just how she was and such mind stimulating activities weren't part of my daily life at that point. I didn't have time for that.

Of course I could have sat on the more comfortable sofa, but that would have been a definite setback! As irritated as I was with the carpet and the condition of my legs, I wasn't at all interested in sitting more than two feet away from the television for fear that I might miss something important in the fast-paced storylines of my favorite cartoons.

Some sacrifices must be made.

Tom and Jerry was my favorite cartoon of all, with The Real Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coming in a close second and third, respectively. Even at a very young age, I had a good understanding of the social implications of the show, though I of course couldn't explain them with any sort of eloquence.

Essentially, the premise of this show is that the cat and the mouse fight each other just because of their social roles as cat and mouse. Tom, the cat, sees Jerry, the mouse, and something inside of him clicks: I must chase this mouse with reckless abandon because he is a mouse and I therefore do not like him. Hilarity ensues as Tom comes up with every trick in the book to capture the elusive Jerry, but always to no avail as Jerry has several tricks of his own.

In the end, Tom and Jerry always seemed to arrive at an understanding of each other and even displayed a certain amount of amity towards each other. A certain simpatico, if you will.

I wished real life were as simple as the cartoons I watched.

While I was enthralled with my show and my scratching, I hadn't realized that I had the volume extremely high until I heard my mother and her husband, Paul, stirring in their bedroom.

My mother remarried in 1988 or 1989—I can't remember which, but it hadn't taken her too long to find someone new to marry after her leaving my father. Paul was a construction worker and, like most construction workers (at least the ones I have met), he spent most of his free time at the local bar. Not coincidentally, this is where he happened to spend most of his paychecks.

I didn't understand why he had to go to this place. If he was as thirsty after a hard day's work as he said he was, we had plenty of drinks at home and I would have been more than happy to share my juiceboxes with him.

Paul stumbled into the hallway, belched, and squinted into the sunlight, holding himself up against the wall. He was utterly disheveled and wreaked of liquor. He approached me slowly as he shuffled over the carpet, his feet heavy with a hangover.

“Good morning!” I chirped, as innocently as a boy my age could.

Paul looked up at me with this look that said “Are you serious?”

He burped, then sighed, scratching at his navel with his middle finger. “Go back to bed, Andy. It's early.”

I have always hated it when people call me Andy. Even as a four year old, I thought it was such a juvenile name: Andy. Andy isn't the name of a cool kid or even a moderately cool kid. Andy ranks up there with names like Marcus or Elliott. Andy is the name of the fat kid with Coke-bottle glasses who eats paste and occasionally wets himself during class. Drew, on the other hand—that is a cool name.

I turned away from him and focused my attention back on the screen. I think I even made this weird nose with my mouth—like a pft!—as if to say, Yeah, whatever dude. “I'm watching Tom and Jerry.”

“The fuck you are,” he bellowed through another belch—he was still drunk. He stomped towards the television and punched the power button with his clumsy fist.

“Hey!” I whined. “I was watching that!”

“And now you're not. Now get your ass back in bed!”


“Go, God dammit!”


He took a few steps closer.


My innocent, puppy eyes and whiny complexion turned to stone.

Looking back, I can only see this event as a rerun of the moment David faced down Goliath. The lumbering giant stomps his way onto the battlefield and bellows, “I ask for a fight with a man and you send me a boy!” The shepherd boy, David, plants his feet to take a firmer stance and pulls out a sling and a knapsack loaded with his artillery—five smooth stones—to challenge the sword and spear Goliath wields. Goliath chuckles—no, guffaws—at the sight and between bursts of laughter retorts, “What am I? Am I a dog that you should come at me with a stick?”

David's reply is epic: “You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God.”

This, of course, enrages Goliath. He steps forward, expecting David to quake; but the boy does not. The giant takes another step forward and raises his right arm across his chest and prominently displays the backside of his hand and motions that if David keeps standing there, he will soon be tasting it; but the boy does not move. Goliath takes one last step toward David so that he is standing nearly toe-to-toe with the boy.

David, the shepherd boy, does not shake. David, the future king, does not run away. David, the man after God's own heart, does not even move. He loads his sling with a single smooth stone and glares back at the giant with a dogged determination.

Goliath furrows his brows and challenges him with his eyes: Make your move.

This is it. This is that moment.

This is that moment that the little boy with the water-wings stands at the edge of the dock and works himself up to jump into the water for the first time; and even though his daddy stands there with open arms and promises Come on! I will catch you! Jump!, he still doubts all of his surroundings, his assuring father and, most of all, himself.

I closed my eyes and loaded a single smooth stone into my sling.





“You're not my daddy,” I said. I turned my stoic face to meet his gaze and with all the bitterness my four year old body could muster, coldly followed the phrase with, “I don't have to listen to you.”

He grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and yanked me up to my feet. He took an awkward, hard swing at me with the back of his hand, but missed in his drunken stupor. He tripped up a bit, but never let go. The second time he swung, he didn't swing as hard and he didn't miss. His open palm made direct contact with my left cheek and made a muffled clap!.

I didn't cry. Though tears welled up in the corners of my eyes, I did not cry.

I looked up into his heartless eyes and shrieked, “I hate you! You're not my daddy!”

He pushed me to the ground with the clenched fist that had been holding my shirt. The force of his shove made me roll once or twice until I stopped against the wall. “Now, go!” he yelled.

I don't think I was as scared as I was bewildered. I was watching a cartoon about a cat and mouse who fight each other and now, here I was cradling my swelling, bright red cheek in my hand for comfort as my Smurfs t-shirt absorbed the blood dripping from my nose. And even in the heat of the battle, that God damned carpet was still making my legs itch!

Stuff like this never happened in my cartoons: I didn't know how to react or what to do. The cat and mouse always became friends at the end of the program! I couldn't foresee any simpatico coming from this event.

And, of course, there was the thought: Where's Mom? Why won't she save me?

Paul stood over me, slouching at the waist, arms dangling at his sides. His beer gut spilled over the elastic band of his underwear and his long, deep breaths made it seem as though he had just run a marathon. Even though this battle technically belong to him (after all, he was the one still standing), he looked defeated. A hint of exasperation across his face. His stance made him look pathetic and even in my fear of him, my Goliath, I felt stupid and slightly embarrassed for ever being afraid of him in the first place.

The way he was glaring at me under the weight of his eyelids told me that if I didn't do something, he was ready to strike again. I ran to my room, slamming the door behind me, and slid my weakened body under the bed, making sure my mattress hid every inch of my skin. Through the door, I heard Paul take a few steps then collapse in a heap of drunkenness. I felt vibrations under me as the floorboards absorbed his deep snores while he lay there, with his face down in that brown and gold shag carpet.

I never again told Paul that he wasn't my daddy to his face. Then again, I never called him daddy either.

And this is my first memory.

Copyright 2008, thisbelongstodrewmoody

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