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MEMORY

The earliest memory I can recall is one of being afraid.

My best guess is that I’m somewhere around three years old. I was with at least a couple of my older sisters and my mother visiting a great aunt and uncle. It was morning, spring or summer because I remember it being warm and green. We must have gone inside first to say our obligatory hellos, then told to go outside and play.

There was a large bulkhead at the back of the house that led into the basement. My older sisters didn’t hesitate before going inside.

I, on the other hand, stood stubbornly outside refusing to follow them in after being told that the monsters from the breakfast cereal I loved – Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry – were hiding in their dark, dank basement.

I was terribly frightened and began crying after being teased mercilessly, but I don’t remember anything more after that.

This memory feels like a dream the way it haunts me still. It feels as though I could close my eyes and continue the story and invent what happened next.

But I guess in some ways I already have.

“A full inhabitation of memory makes human beings conscious, a living connection between what has been, what is and what is about to be. Memory is a link to personal freedom.” – David Whyte Consolations

I don’t know why that memory clings to me still, but I do know that perhaps I have it to thank for overcoming my fear of the dark. And I don’t just mean dark, dank basements.

I went from being afraid of cartoon monsters to actively seeking out anything that frightened me, like walking in the woods alone at night without a flashlight or devouring every Stephen King book I could get my hands on, reading many of them before I’d even hit my teens.

Another memory I can still clearly recall to this day took place on a hot summer night in July deep in the woods where my family camped each summer. I was thirteen and was sharing a tent with two of my sisters. Each of us had our own cot and a small space cordoned off around it for our things. It was past one in the morning, but I had stayed up to finish reading Pet Semetary by flashlight.

Spoiler alert: Pet Semetary is among other things a story about a beloved family cat that’s been run over and killed then buried on ancient Indian burial grounds which somehow allows it to come back to life.

Just as I finished reading the last page and had shut off the light, carefully placing the flashlight on the ground under my cot so as not to wake anyone, I heard a noise.

Something or someone was pulling at the zipper slowly opening the screened doors inch by inch.

I remember pulling my sleeping bag up to my chin and being unable to breathe and unable to move as I waited to see who or what was about to force its way into our tent.

There was just enough light to make out something pushing its head through the space in the open screen then all at once the zipper gave way, and a cat pushed its way through and ever so slowly began making it way over to my cot.

I remember quietly cursing at it before throwing the book at it then breaking into a fit of laughter over how damn scared I was.

It was an adrenaline rush that Stephen King himself would have been proud of.

In many ways, this blog, this collection of my stories good and bad, has been more frightening than any Stephen King book I’ve ever read.

Frightening because each week I am relying on my memory to dive back into dark waters and surface with another story to share. Maybe the very act of pushing past my fears so long ago was somehow instrumental to my no longer being so afraid now, who knows?

What I do know is that my memories are still very much alive.

After my sister died, it was my memories of her that kept her alive, same with my grandmother who had passed away years before her.

My memories were all that I had left of them after they both died.

One of my favorite memories of my sister, Karen, happened while a few of us were eating dinner together after walking twenty of fifty miles at a fundraiser walk for MS research, a disease that would ultimately take her life.

She and I were sitting at one of the picnic tables together, along with another of our sisters, a brother, and her son. My nephew had just excused himself to get something to drink, and while he was gone, I motioned to my sister, Karen and my brother, to watch as I discreetly slide his dessert plate of chocolate cake away without our other sister seeing.

What happened next was as predictable as the tides.

As soon as he returned he saw that his cake was missing and immediately accused our other sister of taking it which of course started them both bickering about it while the rest of us nearly bust a gut laughing. It was a silly, sibling thing to do, and I knew it would get them both riled up, but it didn’t take long to realize things were getting a little more heated than I anticipated.

That’s when they both happened to notice how hard the rest of us were trying to keep from laughing.

As soon as they figured out what was going on, I was called an asshole and told that my little joke wasn’t very funny, but oh it so was. So much so that it became a running joke each year after that, every time the fifty-mile challenge walk came around.

But what’s even funnier was that somehow in the retelling of this story year after year, it changed as many stories tend to do.

A few years later when the five of us got around to telling the story again, my brother remembered things very differently. So differently in fact, that he now believed it was his idea to take the cake plate away as a joke in the first place.

Even after we all called him out for it and corrected him, he maintained that that was how he remembered it.

Memory can be a funny, fickle thing sometimes precisely because we remember things from our own point of view.

“Every human life holds the power of this immense inherited pulse, holds and then supercharges it, according to the way we inhabit our identities in the untouchable now.” – David Whyte Consolations.

I’ve lost track of how many times my husband and I have fought over the details of how something went down, each of us stubbornly certain that we are right and the other is wrong.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter who said or did what or who didn’t, or at least it shouldn’t. In the end, we’re just fortunate to have the memory of the thing at all.

In the words of the wonderfully wise Dr. Suess, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

I couldn’t know that she would die so young and I would be left only with my memories of her. Memories that are near and dear to my heart.

I will never get her back, never make any new memories with her, but at least I can be happy that they happened in the first place.

 

NEXT WEEK: NAMING

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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