Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin." ~Barbara Kingsolver

For the past twelve months I have practiced remembering. I have rules for this:
1. The memory must be pleasant, or at the very least, mundane, and must not stray into areas of fear or pain.
2. There must be at least one sensory connection.
3. There must be no dedicated purpose nor morality in the remembering--no lessons to be learned and therefore no possible regret or guilt.
4. The time frame needs to center around my earliest memories to about age seventeen.

This exercise was of my own choosing. Therapist did not suggest it, nor does he know I've been doing it.

Actually, I haven't told anyone about it.

I've found this to be an intensely emotional experience and one that binds me to my childhood and teen years in ways I had not expected. I suppose I have been learning who I was--and in the process I often forget who I am. The feeling of having no identity, or one which seems amorphous or ethereal, is uncomfortable for me. I have always had a very strong sense of self, as odd as that might sound to one who knows my background. The memories often leave me weeping for no reason. There have been times when I felt forcibly compelled to share them. I didn't, usually, mostly because in the telling it seemed as though the memories might be lost.

I'm not explaining this well, but after a year I find myself wanting to record some of the memories. They're meaningless. I know this. Still...they're mine and I want them right here. So tonight I will record a few. I need to look at them, written down, and in the process of reading perhaps I will find myself.

I am four. I'm wearing a sun dress--lime green with bright pink polka dots. I love this dress and would wear it every day if allowed. I'm barefoot, standing in a square of sunlight on our grey carpet. My older sister is trying to teach me to blow bubblegum bubbles. I'm fascinated and repelled. I don't like the way the sugary gum tastes. My bubble attempts fail miserably, ending with sticky gum on my chin. I watch as she blows bubble after bubble, popping each one and pulling the gum back into her mouth. Part of me wants desperately to be able to do that--while another feels slightly sick, watching her mouth form impossible shapes while her tongue darts into the center of the wad of gum to form the bubble origin. I run to the kitchen, spit my gum into the garbage, and run outside.

A clock in the shape of a cat hangs in a slim alcove on our kitchen wall. The eyes move from side to side as its tail pendulum swings back and forth. I'm sort of afraid of it, certain it's alive and very unhappy about being trapped on the wall. I ask my mother if we should let it down. She says no, and briskly adds that I am not to touch the clock. Every day I stare at the shifting eyes, the large numbers circling the cat's stomach, the rhythmic tail. One day I can stand it no longer. I climb up to the clock and pull it from the wall. My father is in the kitchen--he asks what I am doing. I tell him I don't like to see the cat pinned to the wall; it makes me sad. He tells me the cat isn't real. I point to the eyes. My father nods, takes the clock from me and goes to his bedroom. The clock does not reappear again in my memory. For most of my life I have believed my father set it free.

It is evening. The smell of watermelon and mosquito repellent, and the drone of adult voices mix with sultry summer heat. I'm sitting in a swing. My father calls to me, offers me a piece of melon, and shakes his head as I decline. I don't like watermelon. Mosquitoes swarm in the evening air. The adults swat at arms and backs and each other to kill the biting insects. I watch as one lands on my bare skin. It is fragile, fairy-like, with transparent wings. It crawls about, testing spot after spot with its slender tongue, then flies off, unsatisfied. My mother remembers she hasn't sprayed repellent on me. I protest that I like the mosquitoes. She tugs at my arm, tells me to close my eyes, then sprays me with the pungent liquid. I inhale the sharp scent and twirl in the misty spray as my mother's voice orders me to stand still. She finishes dousing me and hands me a small triangle of watermelon, then rejoins her chattering cluster of friends. I look at the bright red fruit, then I walk to the swing set, place the slice on the flat metal at the top of the slide and wait. In moments delicate mosquitoes land on the melon, walking about on their slim legs, testing it with their tongues. I watch until darkness reminds my parents that I must sleep.

My father is planting peanuts. He tells me they won't grow well, but he wants to see what they look like. I don't understand. He knows what peanuts look like. No, he says, he wants to see how they grow. So we plant them and we wait. Every day I sit on the warm concrete beside our tiny city garden plot. I pet my cat or read a book or just watch as the sunlight finds innumerable shades of brown in the soil. Weeks pass, but no green appears. Finally my father digs down to find the peanut seeds. He pulls them out of the earth. They're no longer smooth and whole, but jagged and covered in fine white fuzz. I ask what happened. He tells me the peanuts have molded. I don't know what that means. My father says we won't be making peanut butter this year, and laughs. I laugh, too. I don't like peanut butter.


  1. This is really good. I can't articulate why, right now, but I like it.

  2. It's an interesting exercise, for sure, Erin. I'm not sure yet what the benefit, if any, will be, but I'm hoping I'll find something. :-)

    Thanks for your comment.