To know me, you must start one year, three months and five days before me, or about six months before I was conceived, for I was born into a family that had already begun and that had received a deadly blow. There was a Martin, before there was a Sean Martin.
We might have been the same, he and I. Who knows who he would have become if he hadn't died at the age of nearly nineteen months from an strep infection diagnosed too late. He might have become me, or I might have been born to become him or might have already been him.
So I was born into the wounded family on 19 July 1965. There was already my older sister, Erin, and brother, Collin, who lived through the trauma. I was my parent's desire to go on after their desire not to. I was the new beginning born out of the flames of the previous seamless world. I was both the hope and the only one who didn't remember what had been lost.
Conceived in sadness, it was my embryonic fluid, yet I was born happy, if not with a tendency towards depression. I would have probably retained my fragile sense of self if the single most disastrous event of my life didn't occur a month before my third birthday. I suddenly disappeared, I suddenly became replaceable, when my mother produced my younger brother, Patrick. I didn't hate him, I was destroyed by him. Destined to be the savior, I became instead the third of four children. Not the smartest, that was my sister, not the most saintly, that was my sister too, not the problem child, that was Collin, not the littlest, the biggest, the cutest, nor the funniest. Maybe I had always been that way, maybe the circumstances of my birth order fixed it, but I have never known myself not to love living in my own private world, my own entertainment, in a corner, in a hide away.
How was I to know that the sixties had ended the world that had been known up until that point, at least the one that had survived the cataclysm of two world wars? Nothing that my parents had been born into survived up to the time when I arrived. There was now TV in every home, nearly. We had a big white oak box, with a huge blue-gray screen, on which I watched pictures of a man standing on the moon. I hardly even knew what the moon was. I spent nearly the next ten years in front of it. I still can't have one with-in eyesight or I lose all sense of the conversation I was carrying on up that point. I was probably part of the first 100% TV generation.
My first awareness of an outside world bigger than Hays, Kansas, was learning what a president was by seeing the first one in history resign from office. There were hippies and druggies. My mom wore a beehive. My first awareness of clothes was big loose orange flowers on a blue back-ground. How was I supposed to find my way when I started where I did?
My sister compensated for the grief of her parents by becoming the ideal child. She had been so before, and never needed to be spanked. If my parents raised their voices at her, she fainted. She had been born in Hays too, but spent the time up until Marty's death in Maryville MO, where my father got his first job teaching ceramics at a University. Collin was born there, in that other world before time. The dreamy place that was fond memories, myth, and blackness. Collin, naturally inquisitive, distracted his grieving parents by become a crawling then walking disaster. If my parents left the room for one minute the ashtray would be in the coffee or vise versa. He couldn't be left alone for one minute without getting into trouble.
So my parents moved back to Hays in the fall of 1964. My dad started teaching at the University there, a job he would have until he retired in 1989. They bought a two story house in a southern mansion style with a two story porch and big white pillars, built in 1906, that was a block from the Old High School.
I remember sitting on the floor of the living room as the workers rolled up the old gray carpet that left a trail of hard wood floor around the perimeter of the room, that scratched my tummy when I was lying on it playing with my recently unwrapped Christmas presents. I remember sitting there, with Erin, and Collin, all of us sort of piled on my mother, and I asked my mom,"So where does the baby come out?" and my mom explained that there was a special hole for the baby to come out and I said "Show me, I want to see it." And the workers heard the whole thing and my mother was embarrassed. I remember that I had embarrassed her.
I guarded my first memories like a security blanket. I tried to remember back as far as I could, and remembered playing wooden trains with wooden tracks using a-framed opened books for tunnels in the basement with my brother. I remember hiding in the then big now tiny space between the wall and the desk. And there was another memory, but I don't now remember what it was. It might have just been the bunny that my mother crocheted for me that was blue with a white stomach.
The gray wool carpet became blue shag wall-to-wall. My Dad put up blue shutters with pale green and blue striped fabric that was the same as the fabric he recovered the couch and chairs in. The walls were white, the trim blue, and my dad covered the inside wall of the living room, the one that wrapped around the stairways and the closet with rows of shake singles. There was the three foot statue of a man made from solid concrete that fell on Collin, and didn't hurt him but broke the statue's neck. There were the various big ceramic pot-sculptures of my dad's that we would all crawl in if we could.
Collin and I shared the big north-east, upstairs bedroom. Pat had a cradle in the corner in front of the closet. The room had curtains with rows of drummer boys, that matched the bedspread, after the old-fashioned white one that my dad dyed blue went in my sisters room. Erin had the little SW bedroom which had the door onto the upstairs balcony and had a little door half way up the wall that opened onto a cubby hole over the staircase. My parents had the SE bedroom.
In the summer they would put the box fans in the windows pointing out so it would draw air into the house. Even then you could hear the cicadas. And one night lightning struck the tree right outside our bedroom window. I remember a searing white light in the insides of my eyes, even with my eyes closed and fast asleep, and then the detonation of thunder. We ran screaming into my parents bedroom. The tree half splayed-open left shredded bits of bark and twisted bits of wood all over the neighborhood.