I had to have been less than four, before we moved to the lakeshore. I was in the city, in Chicago, with my dad. It was daylight, and when we went into the little neighborhood bar it was quiet and soft and less bright than the sunny day. It must have been closed, with that still, private feeling a public place has when it's off duty. My dad hoisted me up on the wooden bar. It was dark wood, worn and smooth. There were a couple of men standing at the bar, talking and laughing. They liked me and included me in conversation in that way that adults talk to children. I was a quiet child, always making mental notes, always curious, polite and full of waiting. My dad gave the man behind the bar money and they talked about things in a way I knew I wasn't understanding. My dad must have been counting on the not understanding.
This was before I knew how much my dad gambled, or what a bookie was, or questioned why we were at a closed bar in the middle of the day. It was way before my dad gambled away the house - I had moved out by then, and I still didn't know all of it. I'm sure I still don't. If you put me in a strange city and told me to go find a bookie it would've been an impossible quest. It would take my dad twenty minutes. I have no idea how that worked.
When we went back outside I had to squint against the sun for a few minutes. It was a neighborhood bar in Chicago, with old buildings and trees and the wind blowing crisp off the lake. I had on a navy blue wool coat. It was a long time before any of it, or so many other things, made any sense. When you're new to the world everything seems planted in its rightful place and everything is equally mysterious. The difference between secrets and everyday lack of understanding is a blurry place. Sometimes it still is.