“And in the heart, born single as a kiss,
Broods the sad other—learner, yearner, dier—
That knows, uncomforted, its one desire
Was not for this.” ~ Rhina P. Espaillat, from “Falling”
Saturday early evening. Partly cloudy and warmer, high 80’s. Thunderstorms predicted for tonight and tomorrow.
Very tired today. Spent about eight hours yesterday roaming around with Alexis, trying to find her comfortable shorts and sandals. Bought a couple of skirts for myself to wear to her showers. Also bought the invitations and decorations for her shower. So it was a very productive but tiring day. I made the mistake of drinking too much caffeine while we were out, and I definitely felt the difference in my body.
Both Eamonn and Brett came to me today separately to say that they missed Corey. I’m missing him as well. Maybe there is something in the air. I would hate to think how it would feel if he were really going to be gone for 90 days. There was a specific reason why I never dated anyone in the Navy as I knew that I would not be good on long deployments, six months at a time. That has to really wear on a relationship.
Anyway, the house is empty at the moment. Brett went out with Em, and Eamonn went to some cookout with his friends. Just the dogs and me, and Tillie is content now as I took her out to play before sitting down to write; otherwise she wouldn’t leave me alone.
“There either is or is not, that’s the way things are. The colour of the day. The way it felt to be a child. The saltwater on your sunburnt legs. Sometimes the water is yellow, sometimes it’s red. But what colour it may be in memory, depends on the day. I’m not going to tell you the story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.” ~ Charles Dickens, from Great Expectations
So I’ve been thinking about memories, specifically my earliest memories, real memories, not the imagined memories from hearing people talk about events in your childhood. Of course I have the general, vague memories: going to Ravenscourt Park with my dad and our poodle, Sooty. Walking through Ravenscourt Park with my mom to the tube station. Going to the shops with my mom in Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith, and to Mr. Higgin’s shop on Goldhawk Road. But my first true memories come from about the age of four:
- We are living in London in the first house. We live on the second floor. I have not begun school, so I am at home with my mother. There is a large window in the kitchen, and it is covered with steam as she is cooking. I draw what I think are words and letters on the window. I ask my mother what I have written, and she says, “home.”
- Same house: It is Christmas Eve. My mother has put up a fake silver tree. I have begged to stay up late. There are footsteps outside the door. My mother tells me that it’s Santa and that he won’t come in if I’m still awake. I crawl under the heavy front door that has glass as its top half, and run to my bedroom.
- We have moved to our apartment off Goldhawk Road. I fall off the living room couch and sprain my arm. That night I develop a fever and have nightmares about rolling hills of different colors and a giant striding the hills. I have this nightmare frequently when I’m sick.
- A little older. We are living in London. I go to spend a week with my parents’ friends who live outside the city. I realize later that I have been sent away so that my parents can sort out yet another indiscretion of my father’s. While staying with these people a local boy is stung by a wasp. This is a very significant event, but I am not sure why.
- Same age, same visit: The friends and neighbors take several of the children to a neighborhood pool. I do not have a bathing suit. At first I want to swim in my dress. They convince me to swim in my underwear. I am unashamed in that way that only the most innocent of children can be.
- Still 5. My mother’s brother Danny dies, and she is very upset. She tells me not to tell anyone, so I tell my friends who live in the apartment two floors above us.
- Five or six. I am participating in a Dances of Asia program along with some Phillipine Embassy children. There are older girls and boys, and I am left alone with the older boys in a room. One of the boys finds a girdle and holds it up. All of the boys laugh. I run from the room and promptly tell on them.
- Still in London, five or six. I am auditioning for the school chorus in front of the headmistriss of flora Gardens School. I do not use my usual singing voice but yell all of the words very loudly because I want her to hear me. She smiles and tells me that not everything need be loud. I am not given a place in the chorus.
“Memory is the library of the mind.” ~ Francis Fauvel-Gourand
More childhood memories:
- I must be about five or six as I am in school. My mother puts the front part of my hair up in a rubber band, but she does not take it down every day. I cry from the pain when she finally removes the rubber band that has become tangled in my hair.
- Same age: my mother and I travel back to the U.S. for her friend’s funeral. I learn the significance of this much later. While we are in the U.S> it is Halloween. My mother buys me a plastic mask to wear. It scares me, but I say nothing because I want to go out with the other children.
- About six. Summer. We travel to France on the ferry that crosses the English Channel. Then we drive through France, and Spain. We arrive in Morocco where good friends of my parents live in a metal Quonset hut on a military base.
- In Morocco, I eat watermelon for the first time that I remember. An Am-ah in long black robes takes me to the market. I ride on the back of a motorcycle and see camels.
- Same trip: We drive somewhere in the country, and I need to use the bathroom. There is a hut by the side of the road. Inside are two holes with smooth stones on either side of the openings. I refuse to go to the bathroom.
- In Spain, we stay at a hotel called the White Horse. There is a strip of paper across the toilet, and I decide that I will use this bathroom.
“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” ~ Cormac McCarthy, from All the Pretty Horses
I’m older now, but we’re still in London:
- I’m in the hospital to have my tonsils removed. The nurse comes to give me a shot, and I throw a tantrum. Orderlies hold me down.
- After the operation they put me in an oxygen tent. I pull the sheet over my head because it is cooler beneath the covers. My mother walks in and sees the sheet over my head and screams.
- One day while walking to school, my friends and I see a purse behind the bushes that line the side of the hospital fence, a huge black metal fence that runs the length of the street. This may be the nurses home. We wonder how a purse got behind the bushes. Years later I remember this and think that the purse must have belonged to a nurse who was attacked. I create an entire story in my head about this unknown woman.
- One day while walking home from school I fall on the road right outside the entrance to the park. A piece of gravel embeds itself on my left palm. I still have a very tiny spot on that palm where the gravel was.
- We are in school having a maths lesson. The teacher writes a problem on the blackboard and asks the smartest boy in class how many numbers he can work with at one time. He says all of them. She says no, that we can only work with two numbers at a time, do one thing at a time. I spend the rest of my life trying to prove her wrong.
- My mother cuts off all of my hair so that it will be in the same style s a singer she likes. I hate it short and feel like I look like a boy.
“The words with which a child’s heart is poisoned, through malice or through ignorance, remain branded in his memory, and sooner or later, they burn his soul.” ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
These memories are mine, perhaps not recalled perfectly, but as close to real as I have stored them. For example, I know that I saw the guards at Buckingham palace on several occasions, but I do not actually remember this. Most of these things I have not told my mother, so she has not recounted them at the dinner table in that embarrassing way that she does, like the things that I did as a baby. I never told her about the girdle incidence, or the black purse behind the bushes. She does not know that I was afraid of the mask with the thin strap of elastic that got caught in my hair. I never told anyone about my dreams of colored rolling hills and giants.
Nor does my mother realize that I remember the Indian woman in the sari who came to our apartment door right after I got back from spending the week in the country, that my mother closed the door and began screaming at my father. I remember that, just as I remember being taken from the room.
Why does it matter where these memories come from? I don’t know, I only know that it matters to me. These are my truths, and they have not come to me from someone else’s filter. There is one thing that I can tell you for certain: I was a happy child most of the time until I went away for that trip in the country. After that, I did not trust that my parents would not send me away again. After that, I was unsure of everything.
All images feature places or things in London that remain firmly ensconced in my memory. I cannot tell you how exciting it was to find pictures of some of these places on the Internet.
More later. Peace.
Music by Josh Ritter, “Change of Time”
The solitude of an apricot
Away from leaf touch, from twig.
Away from the markings and evidence
of others. Beyond the shale night
filling with rain. Beyond the sleepy
origin of sadness. Back, back into
the ingrown room. The place where
everything loved is placed, assembled
for memory. The delicate hold
and tender rearrangement of what is missing,
like certain words, a color reflected off
water a few years back. Apricots and
what burns. It has obtained what it is.
Sweet with a stone. Sweet with the
concession of a few statements,
a few lives it will touch without bruising.
~ Carl Adamshick