Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Earliest memories

The most irksome thing about childhood amnesia is that I can't even tell which is my earliest memory, or when it is, or whether any of the contenders are real memories or just memories of people telling me about things that happened.

The earliest memory I can clearly fix at a point in time happened just before my fifth birthday. (I read that the average age for a first memory is about 3½, as long as you talk to other people and confirm that the memory is real. If you just go on when people claim is their first memory, that's usually a year or so earlier. It's like how 80% of people consider themselves to be better-than-average drivers.) This memory is of when I was being babysat while my mother was in the hospital giving birth to my sister, which puts it in May 1972. I remember my babysitter taking me for a walk down the block, and stopping at the corner by the street sign to talk about what was going on.

I have a few flashes of images that may predate that, including one striking one of a horseshoe crab turned upside down on the beach. But there's one in particular which is striking in its clarity of detail but which I can't place in time, or even confirm if it's real. This is one of those situations where it might be nice if I hadn't been disowned by my mother, because maybe she could confirm it.

In this memory I am with my parents and we're visiting somewhere in an oldish building, maybe an apartment building. We're leaving and it's late. The stairwell we're going down to leave is one of those ones where the stairs go a half-flight from the building's hall to a landing against the wall, then turns to go another half-flight to the next level, and so on in a huge rectangular spiral, like the ones you see in any high school in the world. You can lean over the railing and look all the way down to the basement down that narrow column between the flights. And that's what I'm doing in the memory.

Apparently, to keep me entertained during this visit, I have been given a small collection of toys, I think some kind of building block toys, which were in a rectangular Tupperware container of a particular faint jelly-like green color which, thankfully, is no longer being made. The lid was milky white, not the same green. And while peering over the railing, I managed to drop this container and it fell to the basement, spilling its contents.

I was naturally very upset and insisted that we get the toys back. My father was reluctant, because it was the end of a long day and he was tired, and it was quite a few flights down, more than he would have otherwise had to go. My mother insisted it was worth retrieving them, with the ease that comes of not being the one who'll have to do the job.

I wish I had some way to confirm if this was even real, and if so, when it happened. I'd like to know where this place was and why we were there. Above all I'd like to know how old I was at the time.

1 comment:

litlfrog said...

I had no idea that you had trouble remembering things from early childhood. My first concrete memory was also a kind of metacognition. It's just a flash of being in my mom's bathroom and looking at a pink pastel trashcan, then looking through the open door at the bed. I thought, "Daddy used to sleep here too." I then thought, "I should remember that daddy used to sleep here, because I might not always be able too." It's true: my father left when I was only three or so, and I have no memory of him living in our home in Marrero. But I have that one memory of remembering.