“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said, “Nothing is the matter.”
Even as a child I would ponder that meaning. People ask “what’s the matter?” What does that even mean? I suppose they’re inquiring what the matter is and how it is affecting you. And then you reply with “nothing”, meaning that nothing is the matter, which doesn’t make much sense. It would have to be “there is no matter”, as in, “there is no matter that is affecting me.” I don’t know why I pondered on such strange things, but I’ve always done so as long as I can remember.
My mother cared about me. She always asked what the matter was. I always replied with a trite “nothing”. That just meant that I didn’t want to talk about it. After she inquired, she would lead me outside and set up her easel. She would say gently to me: “Paint it.”
I knew what she meant by that. Instead of explaining what the matter was to her, I would paint and it would console me. This trick always worked as a child. I attempt it as an adult, but it’s not the same.
My father did not care about me. That’s what I got out of him, anyway. He’d stare me down with his cold gaze, light scowl forming on his brow, and creases where he always frowned. His dark eyes always looked grim and menacing to me. His thick hands wanted to come down on me. I’m thankful that they never did.
I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t like that to me. My mother seemed unaware of it all, and although they practiced outlandish and frightening things in the bedroom, they always seemed quite fine out of it. I wasn’t allowed in their room.
We lived in a small cottage in the forest. Father built it. I enjoyed living there, since nature is rather soothing and peaceful. And I would paint trees with mother. She taught me how to paint. She loved the trees. I grew to love them, too. When mother was off and only father was home, I would wander into the forest so I could escape from him. I always played stupid imaginary games with myself since I had no friends. I did go to school, but everybody seemed to think I was strange. People made fun of me often.
When I played my imaginary games in the forest, father was always the evil one. It seems childish and stupid, but that’s because it was childish and stupid. I would run away from the house and end up talking to the trees. There were rabbits in the forest. I’d be absolutely sedentary and still. They would hop up to me. I gradually extended my arm forward to pet them. Since I went in there often, they began to trust me. The trees and the rabbits were my only friends for the longest time.
As I grew older, my father grew more distant and my mother seemed more depressed than usual. That, in turn, would depress me as well. Soon I gained friends in school when I began college, and taking out this depression led to an alcohol-drenched lifestyle glazed with drugs, cigarettes, and music.
Mother and father didn’t know about this. I thought it would be best kept clandestine. And it was, and it always would be.
My mother listened to a variety of music when I was young. I remember, at my earliest age that I can recall, she used to listen to mostly classical music. I must’ve been about five years old, somewhere around that age. She particularly liked Beethoven and Chopin the most. I remember she played this song by Chopin on the record player often, and I later found out what that particular song was. It consisted of piano alone – it was his Mazurka in A flat major – Opus 17 No. 3. There’s something haunting about the song, perhaps how it begins quietly. And then there’s a crescendo – but it’s the notes, whatever notes he uses, it gives me a strange feeling every time I hear it. When I hear it as an adult, it reminds me of the days in the house when I was young – specifically one winter. Mother and I sat huddled by the fireplace. She had that song on the record player. And it was in that night that I discovered a sickening aspect of my parents. I do not like to look back on that.
However, I would sit in front of the fireplace on a cold winter night and stretch my little arms forward to warm my cold hands. Sometimes mum would take both of my hands in hers, soft and warm, soothing in the midst of the faint wind we heard outside as frost formed on the windows and the world was stark-white. We were all so quiet, despite the soft Chopin playing, and a fleeting deer came to one of the windows and stared. Mum told me to hush, softly, and I stared into its frightened eyes til it dashed away.
Dad came into the room and sat on his armchair. He placed his glasses on his face and watched mum and I. Mum attempted to explain something to me about the deer, but dad’s harsh gaze distracted me. Although he never did so, he smirked at me when I stared up at him. He came to sit down on the rug with mum and I. He placed his hefty palm on my head and ruffled my hair a bit. I managed to smile and giggle a bit, all childish-like. That song remained, playing ominously in the background.