My sister’s kids are over at my parent’s house for a sleepover. Since we moved into my parent’s basement a year ago, that makes five girls – three are mine, two my sister’s – who run downstairs and begin to pull every toy and game from every drawer, closet shelf, and cubby hole. In less than five minutes the girls have accomplished making the basement look like 100 kids have been down here playing.
Without warning, all the lights go out and one of the girls starts to scream. The others join in and now five young girls are screaming while they run around in a dark basement. I walk downstairs to inform them that the power is out and I’ll grab the flashlights in the closet. As I grab one of the flashlights, I see my video camera in back of the shelf. Sitting next to it are the tapes. One is labeled, “Lisa’s last winter.” I pop it in the camcorder and begin to watch - forgetting all about the flashlights. The small screen now becomes the only light in the whole basement, the kids flock to it like moths to a candle.
“Who is that?”
“Am I in there?”
“Let me see. Let me see.”
I wasn’t planning a reflection of love lost, but it’s happening and now the girls, who I did offer to get a flashlight for, are killing the moment. Dropping out of reality like I tend to do when it involves memories of Lisa, I lose my desire to help them attain light and walk away.
“Hold on girls, give me one minute,” I say, as I’m already at the other end of the basement and go to my room. The door to my basement bedroom has long been removed, as this room has been used for storage the past 10 years. I don’t think my parents thought one of the kids would ever be coming back home to live at this point in their lives. So instead of going to the garage and getting the old wooden door that has since been warped by outside weather, a curtain has been hung in its place acting as my bedroom door. This curtain has a difficult time keeping out a fly, let alone a curious six-year-old child.
Kelly peeks her head in with Molly hiding behind her – younger sister instinct to let the older sister get in trouble first – and asks again if they can see who is on the video. They don’t wait for my answer and are almost in my lap within seconds. I am trying my best to be patient but I haven’t seen live images of Lisa in months and this unexpected trip down memory lane has thrown me. I get up and walk past the girls and head towards the bathroom – my last great escape in the house. “Girls, you can see it, but I just need a moment here.” Walking into the main room, I hear the other kids from the darkness call out my name.
“There’s Uncle Matt…”
“Not now, need to use the bathroom.” I say, cutting them off and locking myself in.
I close the toilet lid and sit down and start the camcorder again, I am ready to transport myself and pretend this video is happening in real time. I watch Lisa baking cookies for Haley and Kelly in our old house. The girls are coloring at the dining room table. Lisa’s hair is pulled back in a ponytail, her brown sweater lets me know it’s winter, and the radio is on as she bounces to the beat of the music while scooping hot-out-of-the-oven cookies on a plate. I picture myself in the kitchen with her.
The voice of my mom talking to the girls brings me back to the bathroom in my parent’s basement.
“Is someone in the bathroom?” She asks.
“Dad’s in there.”
Like getting a shot at the doctor, I close my eyes and lower my head as I know what is about to happen next.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
“Matthew, we have no power! The pump isn’t working; you can’t go to the bathroom down here!”
“I’m not going to the bathroom!!! Just need a minute of privacy!”
As soon as those words come out of my mouth, I could tell that sounded like I was holed up in the bathroom wearing woman’s clothing while shaving my legs with a tube of Crest, Vaseline, and Desitin on the sink counter (What? Too specific?).
I turn off the camera and put it on the bathroom shelf. I guess I wasn’t meant to find the camera tonight. I emerge from the bathroom into the darkness.
“Dad’s out of the bathroom, come on dad, we’re playing midnight tag ghost.”
Living in my parent’s basement has been an adjustment. All of this has been an adjustment. It’s been close to 20 years since my mom banged on the bathroom door yelling at me – I’ll save that for another day – and I don’t even have a real door for my basement bedroom. But as I make myself aware of my immediate surroundings, I see five kids running around in the dark, holding flashlights, playing midnight tag ghost. I smile comes to my face as I hear equal parts laughing and banging into furniture. This should be recorded. Maybe I was meant to find that camera tonight. I’m in the habit of thinking of the past; I almost missed the point. I walk back in the bathroom to grab the camcorder off the shelf.