While Z has these amazingly complex memories of being 2 (and even younger) I don’t remember a whole lot of my early life. That’s not an age thing either; I didn’t remember much ten years ago, or ten years before that. The bits and pieces that I do recall tend to be a little blurry—interestingly vivid bits of colour, sometimes augmented with sound and smell, but fuzzy and faded around the edges like those really old snapshots hiding away in dusty shoeboxes at the back of most people’s closets.
What I get more than anything from these memories is emotion, though how much the emotionality of such lightly detailed memories can be trusted, I’m not always sure. Especially since at least a few of these recollections prove themselves quite unreliable when they seem to cross over into the realm of (what has to be) fantasy.
Last night, as I was lying in bed waiting for the sandman to bless me with a sprinkling of his magic dust, I kept thinking about all this, and about how I have less than a handful of actual photos of myself and my siblings as children. This led to another thought that left me feeling kind of sad: I don’t have a way to show my kids who I was before I was their mom, because I don’t have strong memories, and I don’t have any physical proof to back up or deny what little I do recall. I have dozens of fictional stories to leave them, but what about the story of me?
And then this other troubling thought popped into my head;
Without the proof that we were here—that we roamed this world as children, that we forged our own paths and earned a place in this life—a few decades from now, it will be almost as though my siblings and I never existed at all.
Yes, a silly and oddly melancholy thing to think perhaps, but nonetheless, a seed of thought that has now been sown in the soil of my mind with the intentions of becoming a grand old tree.
First thing this morning I put out a call on my personal Facebook requesting photos of the early days from family members (of which I have plenty). I know that my favorite cousin will do her best to dig something up for me, but other than that, I don’t expect this request to bear much fruit, because it is far from being the first time I’ve made such an entreaty. Still, despite the fact that Albert Einstein brilliantly defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, at least one fragment of my personality is eternally optimistic, and can’t help but hope for the best.
Either way, with or without physical proof of my earlier existence, I do have those blurry, coffee-stained memories, and I thought it might be a fun and/or interesting exercise to try and put them into word form.
And so now, without further ado, that is what I shall attempt…
I remember spinning.
I know that we lived on a hill overlooking tiers of houses as they dotted their way along streets that wound down to the ocean. It was White Rock, B.C.—for some reason, I am absolutely certain about this—and I couldn’t have been more than a toddler at the time.
I remember there was a beaded curtain hanging in one doorway—it was the 70’s after all—and something about that curtain offers up a certain creepiness for me. Whether or not it actually creeped me out as a kid, I will never know, just as I will never entirely understand why, or what about it in specific makes me recall it in an eerie light. I just do.
I remember, or at least I think I remember, that there was a big, heavy wooden desk or table resting just below a huge bay window, and I think that there was a C.B. radio sitting upon this table, but that might be something bleeding over from another incomplete memory.
I know that it was a beautiful, bright and sunny day, and the room was filled with warmth.
I was just spinning, spinning, spinning, watching the world stream by me in ribbons of colour, until the spinning became too much, and dizzy, I fell to the floor. It was a wood floor, and the walls (that continued to spin around me long after I myself had come to a stop) were white.
I remember being happy, until I suddenly wasn’t anymore. Maybe it was that the spinning somehow frightened that child version of me, or maybe it brought up a touch of nausea, which often led to my tears when I was a kid. I don’t know, but the memory fades away entirely just after I drop my face into my hands and begin to weep.
I remember my mother and me eating sandwiches.
For some reason, I do believe it was in the same house, but I really can’t say for sure. What I do know was that we were sitting at a table eating lunch together, and there was Swiss cheese in my sandwich. I remember telling my mom how much I didn’t like it, and her telling me I had to eat the sandwich anyways. I remember getting up to go to the washroom and pretending to vomit into the toilet. I vividly recall watching a mouthful of sandwich (that’d I’d stored in my cheek) as it spun with the water in the toilet bowl before disappearing down the drain. And I remember that, upon my return to the table—despite what I’d believed to be an Oscar winning performance—my mother made me finish that sandwich anyways.
I remember the smell of smoke.
The only visuals that I have to go along with this memory involve a small window, and a woodpile beneath it. I don’t think that woodpile was the source of the smell, because I can see no flames in this fragmented memory, but for some reason I feel like it was. I also feel like I can hear someone whisper-shouting “fire”, but it’s all very confused and confusing.
I remember another sandwich…
This time I was in what I can only assume was a daycare of some sort, though the finer details of any such a place are completely lost on me. This sandwich was made of cream cheese, cucumbers and sprouts—something that I’ve always enjoyed—but that day it stood between me and a nice, fat piece of homemade carrot cake with cream cheese icing. Whoever my lord and master was for the day (a woman, that’s all I’m really sure of) refused to let me eat the cake before I finished the sandwich, no matter how many times I told her I simply did not have room for both, and that I really wanted the cake.
I believe I went home with the cake still in my lunchbox that day.
I remember a tall house.
I think it was the home of my father’s friend and lawyer, but while I’m pretty sure the details of this particular memory used to be a lot clearer, I can no longer recall a single feature belonging to any of the people that lived within those walls, except to say that they were vegetarians. I do remember though, in rather vibrant detail, that the house always seemed to be in a state of renovation, and that there was a door leading from one of the higher floors out into nothingness. This door was not reachable from the inside of the house; or if it was, I never seen or cannot recall its internal face; but you could see it from the street. Just some mysterious portal leading from a room unknown, into a dead air.
(Many, many years later—I think when I was in the fifth grade—I would write my first supernatural-horror story about a secret door, and many years after that, I would come to realize that it was inspired by that tall house.)
I remember sitting at a big wooden desk, or maybe it was a table.
Whether or not it was in the spinning room, I can’t be certain, though I feel like it was. I know there was a huge window before me, but it was dark; pitch black; and so couldn’t see the ocean that I know was out there somewhere.
I had my chubby little toddler fingers wrapped around the handheld mic piece of a C.B. radio, and I remember being almost electrified by my excitement. I think I was like that a lot as a kid. I was trying to reach my dad—he was somewhere out there in the darkness, on his boat, probably docked at the end of White Rock Pier.
“B.C.N.U., come in. This is Sardine, over.”
I don’t remember if he pinged me back that night—maybe, maybe not—but it seems to me that I spent a lot of my life trying to call out to a father that didn’t always have his “ears on”.
I remember Crescent Beach.
My best friend when I was really little was the daughter of my unofficial godparents. My “godfather”, B, was a biker; a long standing member of a well-known MC club that needs not be mentioned here; and had the greatest beard a man could ever hope to cultivate. I seem to remember his wife, V, a little less… though I know she was thin and blonde, and I think she was kind of short. It’s funny, because I can remember her face more clearly than any of the others, and yet I can’t seem to pull up any specific details about my interactions with her.
They lived in this great old house that everyone used to say was haunted. There were all kinds of stories when I was growing up about how they’d found some old bones buried beneath the house, or something along those lines. What I know for certain, was that they had one of those creepy, cramped, dirt-floor basements designed to give small children nightmares, with or without the presence of actual ghosts—I know this, because I had plenty of nightmares about that basement—and that the adults often hung out down there, drinking beer.
I remember my best friend, A, once trying to prove to me that she could, in fact, pee standing up like a boy, and I recall being somewhat impressed when she actually managed to do it. I also remembering trying to replicate that impressive trick, and failing miserably.
I remember that they lived at the end of a short road, and I think it ran off into blackberry bushes and thick foliage if you took a left turn from their front door. I think there was park, a huge one, either across from their house, or somewhere on the otherside of that thick brush, and I’m almost certain there were railroad tracks running along or through that park.
If you took a right from their front door, you only had to go the distance of a few houses to find the end of the block. On the corner of that block was a fire-ravaged, smoke-charred house, and the story was that a woman had been drinking and fell asleep with a cigarette burning, dying alone in her bed. They claimed that house was haunted too, and whether it was or not, we all ran when we passed by.
At the end of the block, if you went right and strolled for a few minutes, you’d come upon the most amazing little Chinese restaurant. Barely more than a hole in the wall, really, but my dad would take me there sometimes when I was little, for milkshakes and egg foo young. I know I hate egg foo young now, but I must have loved it back then.
If you took a left instead, you’d eventually find your way down to the sandy beach. I remember one of those big, cement-block public restroom buildings—and I seem to recall it being painted in some gaudy pastel shade— and outdoor showers, and I remember an ice cream place, a fish & chip shack, and a cobbled walking path that led at least part of the way down to the water.
I remember that in the midst of summer the area would be crawling with scantily clad bodies, and I remember the sound of wind chimes. I remember the smell of vinegar and ocean air.
I remember the night that my mother caught my father with my future stepmother.
(This is probably one of the clearest memories I have from the really early days, even though I was only four. I know that I was four, because I know that my mom was pregnant with my little sister at the time.)
She’d parked our vehicle up near the head of White Rock pier, in what I’m almost certain was not an actual parking spot, and though this part is probably false, I seem to think that we were parked across the railroad. Maybe that part just comes from the sense of doom that overlays the entire memory, I don’t know.
I remember that it was nighttime, and that I was looking out over the bay counting the lights along the pier. I remember that I was sitting in the car alone, waiting for mom to return from my dad’s boat… and I remember that when she did, she was crying. I remember, in fact, that she was more devastated—broken really—than I would ever see the woman again in my life.
I remember that pier, at several points throughout time…
The memories refuse to line up for me, so I can’t be sure when any of them happened, but I remember a lot about that place. In all of those memories it was summer, likely because I spent so many of them down there visiting my dad.
I remember simple sensations like the taste of crab, caught just that morning and cooked in a giant kettle, and I remember melted garlic butter dribbling down my chin. I remember the sound of seagulls, and that gentle whispery language known only to the waves as they lapped against the boat haul. I remember opening my eyes beneath the water, regardless of the sting I knew it would bring, because the underwater world was so different… so mysterious.
I remember Sandcastle days, and melting ice cream cones. I remember fishing from the pier’s heights, and diving from the lower docks; my older cousin K, was allowed to dive from the higher tiers, but not I, and even from the lower levels I was forced to wear a lifejacket. I recall being quite put upon by the unfairness of this.
I remember chasing other kids, and them chasing me. I remember learning Pig-Latin from my stepmother (before she was technically my stepmother) after some older girls broke my heart by using it as a secret language to keep me out of the loop.
I remember a boy and his dad—friends of my father’s—who sailed around the world on a little red sailboat. I know that we were friends, but I can no longer recall his name, nor his father’s, but I do remember sitting in the wheel house of my dad’s boat with him once, listening to a recording of some radio story together and giggling in fits.
I remember playing Frisbee with that that same boy (though this must have been many years later) down near an entirely different waterfront, and that his Frisbee was some strange, neon-orange boomerang kind of thing.
I remember the restrooms at the head of that pier, and that one time with sandy feet and hair still damp with ocean water, I’d run up there to use the toilet. I remember the place always smelled like a slightly less nauseating version of an outhouse, regardless of its running water, and I remember how cool the cement floor felt against my feet, even though the day beyond was a scorcher.
There have been words scrawled on the walls of nearly ever bathroom stall I have ever used in my lifetime, but even though I was quite young that day—and even though it would be a lot of years before I truly understood what I read—I recall reading this one poem scribbled on the door as I did my business:
I saw him, I liked him.
I liked him, I loved him.
I loved him, I let him.
I let him, I lost him.
Why, all these years later, I can still recall every last word of that while it seems I’ve forgotten so much else, I will likely never understand.
It’s funny, but as I’ve been writing this, so many other little things have been popping into my head. I’d love to just keep going, to get them all out while they’re bouncing around in there, but unfortunately, that’s all I have time for this morning… company coming, a concert this weekend, things to do and people to see.I enjoyed this exercise though (in fact I feel a whole lot less melancholy then when I began) and I intend to pick it up again at a later date.
Note: I cannot guarantee the validity of these memories, nor their chronological placement in the timeline of my life. While it is always my intent to cause no harm with my words and actions, I’m not sure that I can promise that this time around.. not if I intend to go forward with this line of thought. Which I do. Please understand that these words, are not meant to disparage anyone. They are an outline of my world as seen through a foggy glass of time, layered with the emotions of a child, and translated by the mind of an adult; there is plenty of room here for error.