At 2 am
Mom woke us up in the middle of the night
gave my brother and I a pair of black garbage bags
“Put as much winter clothing as you can fit inside these bags, when you run out of warm clothes, you can begin with the toys,
then meet me downstairs.”
this was not the first time we were given this instruction
so Edgar and I basically knew how to proceed
but it was never easy
Edgar was only 6 and he had great trouble accepting
that he would have to give up an action figure
in place of a sweater
a nebulizer in place of a lite-brite
when we were done,
we headed downstairs
where our mom held out her arms to both of us and we all huddled together
Dad had not beaten her up in a number of years but Mom still made us move every time
she spotted his car in the towns we lived
he didn’t approach us anymore
it was as if he just wanted to be in the vicinity
I had seen him a handful of times from the backseat of Mom’s car
in Temecula, he was helping some people move a sofa into their apartment
in Tahoe, he was putting on someone’s snow chains on the side of the road
in Spokane, he was up on a ladder working on a faulty street light
when I was little
he seemed like a pretty nice guy to do these things
but mom said
he wasn’t doing it out of kindness
it was how he “stayed afloat”
the night she told me this
I dreamt my dad was on a busted-up oil freighter on the high seas
running around patching up all of the holes
just as he plugged one another would open
“Boys we are going north to Canada —
what do you know about Canada?” asked mom.
“The capital is Ottawa.” I said.
“It’s cold,” added Edgar.
“Will there be snow, Mama?” queried Edgar.
“More snow than you can imagine in that little mind of yours.”
There was a big smile on Edgar’s face now
and my mother made her face look like his once she spotted it
“Mom why can’t we go back to Los Angeles where it’s warm?,” I ventured to ask.
“You know we can’t ever go back there, hijo.”
I did, but it didn’t stop me from asking the question every time.
“Okay mis hijos, my loves. Time to go.”
And then the three of us went out into the cold
or what we considered cold
because a lot of what I thought I knew back then
we left behind in that house.