On Memories

I find myself trying to excavate memories, chipping around the edges of what I do remember, looking for something else that may be poking out and within reach.

It’s tricky. I worry about damaging what little I do remember. I worry even more that I’ll find something I don’t particularly want. Here there be monsters, I think; I remember just enough to know this is true.

Mid-century Christmas ornament hanging from a fake tinsel garland with strings of beads
Mid-century fabulousity. Photo my own.

For the first ten years of my life I have what’s probably less than a year’s worth of memories. And I’m using “memory” loosely – it doesn’t include many long detailed ones. Most are snippets, a fast snatch pulled from the ether. Here’s an example: Virginia, Christmas time, sometime before I was seven –  impressions of a big, mid-century shopping center sign, and a few bars of Judy Collins singing “Both Sides Now.” That blink of an eye somehow ties in with my favorite Christmas ornaments, so I put both things together and assume it’s a memory of a shopping trip.

It was years before I realized it wasn’t like that for everyone. I can’t say I’ve ever been really angry about it – from the first realization that I was memory deficient, I understood there was likely a very compelling reason for it.

I’ve always been of the mind that I’m doing just fine without those years of memories, so why fuck around and take a chance on falling into a pit full of broken glass?

Yet here I sit, on the other side of a big ass span of years (and attending fully functional memories), wondering if there’s a way to maybe pick out a birthday or a Christmas.

I sometimes think it would be nice to remember what it was like to wake up on Christmas morning. I assume I was excited, that there was a sense of magic or good old-fashioned present greed. What was it like to come down the hall and see the presents under the tree? What was it like to unwrap them?

I want to know, about Christmas and the first day of school and birthday parties and vacations. I want to be able to look at a photograph and put a three-dimensional memory with it. Pictures of those first ten years are like looking at pictures from a magazine. The only reason I know they’re real is I recognize the people in them.

You know, for all the years I’ve spent thinking about these things, here’s something I’m just now putting together, an angle that I’ve never really thought of before.

The memories I most want to recapture are all memories that most likely happened inside my house. The memories I do have? Are almost exclusively from school or Granny’s house, or public locations.

Safe places, in other words.

And doesn’t that tell me all I need to know about trying archaeology?

Right now, I can believe I was once excited and awed, holding hands with my sister as we crept down the hall to see the presents left for us. I can believe that even living with a monster in the dungeon I was able to find moments of magic.

I need to let the memories stay buried with his bones. I’m not missing anything I really need.

By Brenda

40-something-something stay home mom, floating somewhere between traditional and strange. I’m addicted to music, making things and my computer.

6 replies on “On Memories”

Like you, the memories I have from before I turned 13 are “snapshots” except for a few from my beloved Gramma’s house or my also beloved Grampa’s quiet garage. A few with friends. But nearly nothing from inside my own home unless my grandparents or my father was there.

The few I have managed to dredge back up (without even trying) are sounds, not ‘pictures’. They depress me, so I let them stay buried. It’s better that way.

I’m so glad you wrote this. It makes me feel a little less alone for having a messed up memory.

I tried to talk myself out of posting it, thinking it just wouldn’t be relevant or helpful or something. I really am a champ at gaslighting myself.

Knowing that it’s helped, and knowing that I’m not the only one, is priceless. Thank you.

(and my apologies for not answering sooner, I just now saw the comment)

It’s funny you mention 10 years of age, because that’s about as far as I can trace back also. When I was 10 we moved from Indiana to New Jersey. I have very detailed memories of my New Jersey years, but before that I just have “snapshot” memories – no motion or sound, just a picture. There are some things that I just can’t remember. Things you would think a person should remember. I cannot pull up one picture in my mind of a family meal in my childhood home, though I know they happened. I cannot pull up a “snapshot” of my parents inside my childhood home. I have vague memories of playing out doors. I can remember what the mulberry tree I climbed looked like.
I’m glad you wrote this post. Whenever I’ve questioned my parents about my childhood, there was always a subtle suggestion that I was just self-centered and ungrateful for not realizing what was going on around me (at 10 years of age and under??….c’mon!). I’m glad I’m not the only one with “selective” memory. And after the adult conversations I’ve had with my family I am pretty sure I don’t want more vivid memories of Indiana

Yes, yes yes on the should remember. No matter what was going on, shouldn’t I be able to pull up one small scrap of a Christmas?

I’ve had to fight gaslighting myself about it, pretty much giving myself that same subtle (or not so, in cases) suggestion that it’s a personality flaw on my part, or even that I’m exaggerating for drama.

I’m glad you’re glad :-) Thank you.

There’s huge swaths of my childhood I don’t remember. The biggest sections correlate with the times where my school environment/childhood depression was the worst. I seem to remember a study correlating that sort of thing: memory loss and depression. It certainly helped that make more sense to me.

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