Thinking Back

Laura‘s short Friday Five question for the week is this:

“There was a light and then someone hit me…” What are your five earliest memories?

This is really a difficult question for me. I don’t remember so much from my early childhood, so I’m going to have to think hard to answer this. Excuse that smoke smell, it’s my brain scalding.

  • I remember going out to the coast and staring out into the ocean.

    When I was a kid we lived in Nova Scotia and I have this strong memory of going to some kind of bay which was shaped like a horseshoe or something. The middle of the bay was filled in, if you know what I mean, so there was just this huge horseshoe shape cut (by water erosion, I guess) into the land. The tide came in there rather quickly, and I remember being impressed by it and thinking for years that it was normal that the tide come in quickly.

  • Not letting the cat out of the box.

    Yes, one of my earliest memories involves an act of cruelty to animals. My friend Shawn Strong and I were playing with a cat—his, I think—and we put it in a box and rolled the box down a hill. It was a wooden box of some kind, and when it hit the bottom of the hill, it broke apart and the cat flew out, and ran off into the woods, never to be seen again.

  • My first “girlfriend”.

    I can’t remember if she was the girl with the dark hair, or the one with the blond hair. Shawn and I used to walk home to the trailer park together from kindergarten sometimes some girls living in nearby trailers walked with us, or near us. We decided that this pair of girls, walking with us, meant that they liked us. This, of course, signified that they were in fact our girlfriends. But I remember we couldn’t decide on which girl was whose girlfriend.

  • “Saving Annie’s life.”

    Okay, it’s a bit exaggerated, but all my childhood I remembered it in that way, so I’m leaving it as that for now. One day, my sisters and I got into the car and my dad started up the engine. Well, eventually he got it started, but I think he had a little engine trouble first. This, of course, meant that there was some time for us kids to sit and wait… and fidget… and fiddle. Well, my baby sister Annie somehow got the back door open and fell out of the car, and crawled under it.

    Without any of us noticing.

    Then my dad got the car started, and—I think because he was by then in a hurry— he was about to pull backwards when I noticed the back door was open. I screamed, at the top of my preadolescent lungs, a shrill warning for him to STOP! and he did. Since Annie was under the car at the time, I congratulated myself for saving her life. I don’t remember who got out and got her back into the car, I don’t remember if she was crying; all I remember was screaming “STOP!”

  • I remember being one of those cruel kids that we sometimes talk about.

    There was a girl in the trailer park, and in my class at elementary school, named something like Kaley or Kelly or some such thing. She was from a poor, and poorly educated, family. They were not big on hygiene, for example: she wore the same exact clothes for weeks on end, and it was obvious they weren’t washed regularly because she smelled like a kettle of fish all the time. I wasn’t the only kid who found this weird, but I was the only kid who showed up at her birthday party with mockery in his heart.

    Her mother came up to me and asked me what I would like to eat. For some goddamned reason, I thought back to what I’d seen the girl eating at lunch, and picked out the most vile example: ketchup sandwiches. Yes, this girl, for whatever reason—perhaps poverty, perhaps weird taste in food—sometimes brought ketchup sandwiches to school for lunch. Well, I looked into her mother’s eyes with a sweetness that can only ever be false, and said, “Ketchup sandwich!” Her mom smiled, and went into the trailer. A few minutes later, out she came and placed it on the picnic bench before me: a ketchup sandwich.

    It was revolting, and I learned a lesson that day about sarcasm and how it can really, really backfire. I also remember telling my mother about it and deciding to be nicer to that girl, even if she smelled very dirty and couldn’t talk normal. (I think she was hearing impaired, but I’m not sure.)

There are other memories, more from the trailer park, but they’re less nice than this: things involving being very sick and crapping my pants, or bullies calling me Professor (or on one occasion, I think on Valentine’s Day, force-feeding me old, dried dog crap and claiming it was chocolate). Other memories of this time I’ve written about before. I have vivid memory of a toybox, an old sandbox, and of my grandfather and the toy he gave me when he came to visit. I recall a huge crocheted giraffe my mother made for me, which I hauled around as if it were my sole guardian and representative. Thinking through all these memories, I find that the earliest memories in one’s life are quite simple, quite selfish: they almost all have to do with me. Oh, here comes another one: the day my baby sister (Annie, featured in one of the memories above) came home from the hospital.

The thing is, I don’t remember Annie per se; what I remember is the feeling of jealousy as this new whining noisy thing took all the attention that my sister Marie and I were used to getting all to ourselves. My favorite toys and play-places; my friends and my mistakes. Memory is a strange thing, but the memories of a child are stranger still, especially when one looks back into them as an adult.

If you’d like to look into others’ childhood memories, check out the drop-down list under the friday fivers header in the right sidebar. It’ll fill out through the day (and perhaps the coming week), as more people post their responses.

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