Born in San Francisco, nineteen forty-two
First thing my Daddy say was, “Son,
that Carmen O’Shaugnessy gone make a fool of you.”
Whenever I think about getting born, I think of UC Hospital, where they dragged me from my mother’s womb one rainy morning, and whenever I think of UC Hospital, I think of how it looks from Children’s Playground in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco,
and whenever I think of Children’s Playground, I think of Carmen O’Shaughnessy.
Carmen was more beautiful than Margaret O’Brien, the famous child star, and she wore her honey-blonde hair in braids like Margaret O’Brien did. They streamed out behind her when she got going on the swings, which was the only way she ever swung, getting higher faster than any of the boys and laughing with joy and pride. Except sometimes she let her hair blow free. Then I couldn’t look away, even when she made faces at me.
In my memory, it’s always Saturday morning. Chickens are running round the playground because they haven’t been scared back into their safe little barnyard yet. Carmen is wearing brown corduroy bib overalls with a striped tee-shirt under it, and Keds. In those days, Keds meant black high top basketball shoes. They were for boys only. Girls were supposed to wear white lace-ups or black patent-leather Mary Janes with a strap across the top. But if you tried to tell that to Carmen, she’d grin at you and run away. So I didn’t say anything. Who would want Carmen to run away?
I dreamed about Carmen again last night, for the first time in years. In the dream I spent long hours inventing carefully nuanced speeches so sincere she would finally love me and never leave me anymore. I spent night after sleepless night like this when I was twenty-three. But I’m old now.
I woke alone in the darkness with my mother’s voice in my ear. “Chris! Watch out!” She was trying to wake me up. That was part of the dream too. But I did wake up, and I was too spooked to go back to sleep. I was sure I’d heard her.
Carmen, why won’t you leave me?
Rabbitville photo courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library.