What Your First Memory Actually Means

In ALL, ILLNESS, WRITING EXERCISES by Stephanie Klein2 Comments

I can’t tell you how old I am, not because I’m at that age where you begin to make a craft of concealing your age but because I’m young enough not to know what age is. I’m young enough where age isn’t mired in comparisons—whose sleeping, bathroom, reading, breading skills have far advanced those of her years or peers. I hate that, when people claim to know how old they were when something happened. Unless the memory is linked to a birthday or a grade in school, or to the birth of someone else, how do you even know how old you were? You need markers.

Mine aren’t memories of photographs others have taken, where I’m somehow willing a moment remembered. This isn’t something you take photographs of.

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I’m wearing footy pajamas, rubber gummy soles, not of my own choosing. I’d never, for example, opt for sleepwear that suffocates my nerve endings. Whether or not I have the fine motor skills or planning to dress myself, you’d have to ask Mommy, the criminal party to these polyester PJs.

I taste bile and feel my digestive juices slip up the arms of my long sleeved footy pajamas. It’s New York. It must be winter. All the lights of our home are off but my eyes have adjusted. There’s no muffled sounds from a television down the hall. I can’t hear my own retching. I’m caught off guard, as if I could’ve planned this better, didn’t have to pick the pitch of night to turn my insides out into a metal kitchen sink. More practical people might at least pick a bathroom or trash bin. But I will live a lifetime in the kitchen, so why not, why shouldn’t this be my first memory, anchored here in my favorite room of any house?

I have pulled out a step-stool, likely from the space between the refrigerator and the wall.

Why? Why would I recall sickness in a healthy life? I was surprised by it, as we all are, when sick somehow takes over. Our brains haven’t caught up yet, we’re struggling to make sense of it, to get to a series of WHYs. My first memory is linked to my body, my awareness of it being this thing, a container for me, knowing that it’s mine and that as much as I willed it, it wouldn’t always obey. I remember this moment, sick in the middle of the night, because I felt scared and saved in the same breath.

I don’t just remember the orange floral and brown and maybe green wallpaper (no wonder I’m retching), but I remember the save. I can see myself from behind. The memory can’t be right because I wouldn’t remember the back of me, my mop of curls, my father’s hand on my back, tapping circles. The yellow pilling feety pajamas. The yellow bile. The fat yellow buds of the wallpaper. I would remember the drain, the echo of splatter, the running water, struggling to pull up the handle. But I remember the backs of things, of us. And I remember knowing that as alone as anyone can feel in the middle of the night, sick within your own body, I wasn’t. Someone was always there, dad was always there. He is still always there. It’s strange that I remember his rescue when it was my mother who always nursed us to health. Maybe it was the anomaly that I remember, a first memory of a first experience. But what I know now, it was far from the last time I’d be saved.

Comments

  1. This one is so good. My first memory is of being sick, too, although it’s mostly likely a second hand memory. I can actually picture myself from my parents’ point-of-view as well. Weird how our mind plays tricks that way.

  2. Pingback: #WritingWednesday – Hot Mess, Cool Day

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