The problem with memories is that they’re not terribly reliable. Recounted tales of my youth mingle with dreams to obscure the nature of my earliest years, forcing me to take even the most vivid memory with a grain of metaphorical salt. As such, I have several flashes of consciousness which vie for the title of my “First Memory”.
Here is what I do know- my memory begins sometime in 2002, when my father was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During this time, the ocean was quite literally our backyard, in the sense that after a brief but satisfying stretch of green, the earth gave way to steep stone, and then the dark blue depths of the harbor. When I say “harbor”, I mean harbor… as in World War II veterans came by our house on the anniversary of Japan’s attack in 1941. I didn’t understand this at the time, of course… as a two to three year old, I had no sense of the history this water held. To me, the ocean was the ocean, and the men who came by every year, just old men somehow related to the Navy my father fought for.
Nevertheless, my sisters and I steered clear of the water. For our age, we were good listeners, and our mother had told us very early on that if we went into the ocean, we would be eaten by hammerhead sharks. This warning caused some confusion when we later moved to Virginia and, upon passing the Potomac River, asked if there were sharks within those waters also.
It is these sorts of half-memories, impressions, which define my time in Hawaii. I remember the ocean, sunshine… Sam Snead’s, a favorite restaurant of my family’s that Anna, Clara, and I mistakenly believed to be named Sam Sneeze, St. Philomena’s, the preschool we attended, the wildly compassionate and patient teachers there, and the pleasantly simple life my mother, sisters, and I lived by the sea.
So, what memories of mine could be my earliest?
The first memory to stick out to me seems unrealistic in its smug meta. I remember waking up one day, panicking over a lack of explicit memories, and running through facts of my life in an attempt to figure out what I could remember, besides truths and people. Obviously, a laughably “deep” first memory. Similarly, I remember dreaming that my life up until that point had been a “test life”, and I was now proceeding to a new life as a different person (a white one, if anybody wants to go into the race politics of my youthful subconscious). While this dream may or may not have occurred, I can’t guarantee I had such a detailed one at such a young age, and so I have chosen to discount it.
What I choose often to acknowledge as my “first” memory is a flash of a hectic morning, one where my father was home. I remember scrambling back and forth to help with breakfast (believe it or not, I did more then than I do now), and struggling to remember my potty training, thereby causing my mother to lose her patience with me. Other, more explicit memories stick out to me, but they seem less likely due to the aforementioned specificity and/or their placement.
For example: I remember waiting hysterically in the lobby of a hospital when my grandmother fell ill, panicking when my sisters left me alone watching “Sailor Moon” in another classroom, and putting on performances with my sisters on the stairs. None of these “feel” as ancient as that frantic morning. I remember more flashes… such as the tattered Sleeping Beauty dress Clara wore 24/7, resenting my neighbor who played with my sisters for hours on end, and a Christmas when the three of us received Angelina Ballerina dolls, but nothing quite as explicit.
It is the nature of life that none of us are privy to our moment of creation, or even our very first memory. Part of me resents the muddled nature of the past created by my flawed memory, but another piece somewhat understands that it is better this way. Memories are wonderful, but dangerous. Were they reliable and vivid, rather than messy and malleable, one might never move forward from the past.
Living in the past is already far too alluring without the benefit of certainty.