Earliest Memory

Some people say they can remember as far back as the womb. I find that hard to believe but I suppose anything is possible. As for me, my earliest memory – one that is truly mine and not one I have appropriated from childhood photographs or countless tales told by my mother- is of an electrical outlet and a wire coat hanger. Interesting, right? I wonder why this image lurks so solidly in my subconscious; but when I dig deep, force myself to delve into the cerebral cortex that stores the past, this is what I find. It’s blurry; it’s fragmented. But I definitely recall pushing the end of a wire coat hanger into an electrical outlet at the base of a beige wall. I also recall the feeling of being told “no”, of someone ripping the object from my hand and screaming at me that my experiment was not good, not good at all.
Other memories prevail and oddly enough they are all along a similar vein. I had a favorite game I played as a 4 or 5 year old. I would hide in the bushes along the street and run out in front of oncoming cars. I found this to be amazing fun. I could actually get people to slam on their brakes, screech to a halt and bolt out of their cars, swearing and sweating and thanking god they had not hit me. I played this game quite a bit, moving up and down our sleepy street, positioning myself secretly behind some fixture that would screen me from view. And when I saw a car cruising down the street, I would count (well, maybe I wasn’t really counting because I don’t think I fully understood numbers then) and hold my breath until the vehicle was right on top of me. Then “Boom!” I would fly out of my secret place and skirt across the road. As I think of it now, it is a small miracle I wasn’t hit, either killed or maimed by some poor, unsuspecting neighbor who’d have to live for the rest of his ruined life with the guilt of hitting a 4 year old. I don’t know how long I played this childish version of chicken or why I was out alone on a suburban street; however, someone finally caught me, took me home and told my mother what I had been up to. Someone finally drug me home and told my mother that I was wrecking havoc in the neighborhood and scaring witless drivers half to death. I don’t recall much about this but I am sure there were choice words from my mother or father as to why this game was not a smart one.
I wonder: metal inserted into a hot outlet, dodging in front of fast-moving machines…I began to see a theme. I think I was trying to opt out of this existence even as a kid. Maybe I was born with a death wish. So I decided to tell one of my psychologists about my earliest memory and my childhood game. I thought I might shock him a bit and was eager to hear about my innate death drive, my quest for thanatos or some other intriguing mental defect. I shared my memories with him and he sat quietly, asking me – as most of them love to do – what I thought those actions meant; what did I think about the memories I chose to recall, to share? I gave him the obligatory answer and then stated that I was obviously suicidal at an early age because I was keenly, acutely aware of how life was going to disappoint.
And then he turned the tables on me – did a psychological 180. He said he saw my actions not as a longing for death but as an outward manifestation of an extraordinary ego. My shrink argued that I was imbued with a super-power complex, that I somehow thought I was beyond harm’s way and was invincible to anything bad happening to me….I was godlike in my powers to control the world and challenge its authority. I wondered at his position, questioning whether he really thought this or whether he was playing the traditional patient-doctor game of devil’s advocate, saying something different from me just to get a rise and use up the rest of our 50 minutes…But I did like the idea quite a bit…super powers, challenging the natural order of things; however, inside I still know it’s not true. I believe, on some level, somewhere buried deep, deep within my consciousness I knew that life was going to be hard. I was the proverbial child, the baby of the family who never wanted to grow up and assume all the responsibilities and hardships of being older. I was going to check out early and skip the hard stuff.
Memories are tricky things. Sometimes it is hard to know what is truly yours and what has been planted by another. I know that the electrical outlet, the dirty beige baseboard and the small hand that poked at the fixture was mine; I know that I was intrigued by doing something forbidden, something lurking on the edge of danger. My mother, who has filled my head with so many stories, loves to tell another one from my toddler years, the same time period when I was challenging electricity and gas-powered engines.
She says that she put me down for nap one day only to find me an hour later screaming toward heaven and shaking the bars of my crib. She says she had never heard such a racket from me and was terrified that something was horribly wrong. “What is it? What’s wrong?” she asked, trying to calm me and stop my shrieks. “Don’t wanna grow up! Don’t wana grow up!” is all I would answer. Red-faced, hyperventilating and wailing my mantra, I think I was on to something back then. Maybe I was brilliant at age 4 and it’s all been downhill since then. Maybe I learned very early on that I was not superhuman, not godlike in any way, and that being a person on this earth and in my family was going to be a long, hard road and I would be dodging dangerous, life-altering obstacles for most of my adult life.

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About waggingmytale

I am an English teacher, writer, animal lover, and aspiring athlete. If you stop by and read or "stumble" upon my blog, please leave a comment and say hello. It's nice to know who visits :-) Namaste!
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