I do not remember much about my childhood. For whatever reason my memories of those first two decades are few, vivid, and connected with strong emotions.
I have a memory of a cross-country, family road-trip, of riding in the backseat of my parents’ red/pink/purple F-350 with a small stack of R.A. Salvatore’s fantasy novels on the seat beside me. Of smelling the pages, studying the cover, and opening to the first page, eager to fall into another world as the trees and fenceposts streaked by the wondows behind and in front of me. I also remember the terribly annoying song my father sang over and over and over again. That is something I will never forget. I hope I will also not forget the rush of excitement from each glint of the fireflies as we chased them with mason jars in the twilight of Nanny and Grandaddy’s country yard in Missouri. The anticipation that rose as I stared into the blackness where my firefly was, waiting for the explosion of color so I could continue the chase.
I have a memory of my cousin burning a pair of basketball shorts with a makeshift flamethrower in the junkyard that was my grandparents property. I was captivated by the blue-green flame as the elastic wasteband sizzled and melted into the dirt. We heard the screen door slam shut; Grandma was coming. He quickly stomped on the shorts to put out the flame. You may know where this is headed since it has to be connected with a strong emotion. The liquified elastic stuck to the sole of his shoe and with near-intention used the lifting of his foot to propel itself onto and eventually into the side of his leg. Go ahead and use your imagination from this point but I will tell you there was screaming, fear, and a good deal of shame.
I have another memory of riding in the back of the red/pink/purple F-350 on another trip. My parents had purchased a camper shell and filled the bed of the truck with a mattress, pillows, and blankets. I was carefully turning the pages of a precious comic book that was worth quite a lot to me. If you know me at all you are aware of what my wife calls my “cloud car,” that is my virtue (or vice) of being able to focus so much that the world around me fades into a blur and muffle. I was deep in the epic adventures of some masked hero. Grandpa, wanting to spend time with his grandson, tried to get my attention by slinging his water bottle at me and onto the nearly holy book that lay across my lap. I was furious, something that does not happen often. I looked up into the smirk onto his face, snapped at him, and gave him the cold shoulder for the rest of our time together (which was the remainder of the day). I don’t remember anything about the comic book, not even who the hero was. I do remember the crestfallen look that grew on Grandpa’s face as the mischievously playful smile faded. I still regret that moment every time I think of him and how I won’t ever be able to apologize for it.
Many of my memories are connected to regret. I remember calling a friend to cancel our disc-golf match. I hadn’t seen him in awhile and, if I remember correctly, didn’t feel up to expending the energy it takes me to socialize (a wellspring of regret for me). He drowned in a river the next weekend. I also vividly remember where I was when I received that news.
I seem to remember the fantasy realms in the books I read as a child and teenager as well as I remember my own life. This reality regularly perturbs me. I often wonder why I don’t remember and ponder why what little I do remember is grounded in emotion. It’s the small things that slip away the quickest, just as the smallest clumps of dirt fall through my fingers first. My mind is an outstretched hand with fingers locked apart as I watch the memories slip through, powerless to stop them. I tell myself, “Maybe that’s how everyone is? ” until I hear others vividly recounting their early lives. I have one memory from all of kindergarten. Why do you get troves?! My memory is of the time a scolding taught me that my eyes do not appear to be looking forward just because my head is facing forward. Apparently your eyes move to the corner when you’re looking out of the corner of them. So much for my master plan of tricking the teacher all year. Shame. I guess I have two memories. I vaguely remember the feeling of warmth and love upon opening my lunchbox on the first day and finding a note from my mom. The only thing I remember about it is the rainbow. My wife occasionally puts notes in my lunch. I’m not sure she realizes the emotional connection these make each time. Hers don’t have rainbows though.
I want to remember the raccoon-smirk on Ivy’s face as she grabs a stack of magnatiles and waddles around the room on new, wobbly legs chanting “Kayee!” I don’t ever want to forget how Rowan says panda bear (it’s pronounced “payuh bayo”). Will I forget all of this just as I did the first two decades of my life? Will I only remember tiny snapshots and general feelings? There certainly is a cumulative aspect to life which is infinitely important to everything but forgetting all of the special moments, even all of the mundane, the day-to-day stresses and joys, is heart-wrenching.