I Remember

“There is nothing stiff about memoir. It’s not a chronological pronouncement of the facts of your life: born in Hoboken, New Jersey; schooled at Elm Creek Elementary; moved to Big Flat, New York, where you attended Holy Mother High School. Memoir doesn’t cling to an orderly procession of time and dates, marching down the narrow aisle of your years on this earth. Rather it encompasses the moment you stopped, turned your car around, and went swimming in a deep pool by the side of the road. You threw off your gray suit, a swimming trunk in the backseat, a bridge you dived off. You knew you had an appointment in the next town, but the water was so clear. When would you passing by this river again?”

–Natalie Goldberg, from the introduction of Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

Every day for the next week, use the prompt, “I remember….” This is one of Natalie Goldberg’s favorite prompts and one I give first to every new group of students I work with. You can write about one big memory or a lot of little memories. You can write about something that happened an hour ago, yesterday, last week, last month, last year or 40 years ago. Go for fifteen minutes. Then do it again tomorrow.

51 thoughts on “I Remember”

  1. I remember August in Cape Town

    It was a cool, clear evening in Cape Town and Kloof Street was bustling with tourists and locals. Neon signs, music, taxi horns, and happy chatter confront me as I round the corner from my quiet street. The sky is blue and cloudless as the sun begins its descent. August in South Africa means cool days and cooler nights. Still comfortable by my North American standards, the weather drew me out of my small lodging for a stroll and dinner. The smoky aroma of grilled meat mixes with oily exhaust from passing cars. The breeze shifts and I catch the sweet smell of pastries from a tiny bakery. But it is the buttery scent of roasted garlic that draws me into a small Italian restaurant. Its tables are cloaked in red and white checkered cloths and I settle into one on the sidewalk.
    Night comes swiftly and street lamps now illuminate Kloof Street as I leave the restaurant and turn the corner on my way home. Clutching a box of leftovers, the quiet street where I live seems more sinister in the darkness. The eclectic fragrance of Kloof Street is replaced by the stench of garbage, awaiting morning pick up behind shops and apartments. Suddenly, a figure steps out from the shadows and I am frozen with fear, unable to speak. The figure is a small man, a boy really, barely out of his teens. His clothes are dirty and carry the odor of his life in back alleys. His eyes say all I need to know though. He will not harm me. I hand him the box of food that will sustain him for another day, he nods in silent thanks, and darts back into the shadows. My heart is pounding, but I can see the light of home just ahead. I safely make my way as the chill and darkness chase me to my soft, warm bed.

    1. How beautiful and how sad. I’ve lived long enough to see that life is full of contrasts like that – warm sun, cool nights, dinner and hunger. I loved the piece and want to know more about your time in South Africa.

        1. Hi Kathy.
          Have you noticed that in the reply box where you put your name and email there is also a box for a website?
          Hint, hint!
          I checked out purposeful travel.net. very nicely done website

    2. I love the way you used details to convey the contrasts of evening and night time. I was frozen in fear right along with you and then moved by the humanity of sharing your leftovers to the raggedy boy who needed it more.

  2. Alternate these two prompts each day for a week:
    I remember
    I don’t remember

    Day 1, Wednesday, Nov 8 2017

    I remember to get up, to go to the bathroom, and to eat.

    I remember that I am a mom and I must stay the course, I must go on.

    I remember that today is my day off and that makes me happy.

    I remember that I am getting a dental crown today and that makes me unhappy. This crown, and every dentist visit, reminds me of how bad I am at dental care.

    I remember that I have come this far, I am seeing the dentist anyway, and am getting my teeth taken care of.

    I remember I have taught my kids better than my mom taught me to brush their teeth.

    I remember that I am a positive force in my children’s lives and that they love me, they care.

    Day 2, Thursday, Nov 9 2017

    I don’t remember a single time my mom told me to brush my teeth.

    I don’t remember owing a toothbrush when I was a child.

    I don’t remember the name of the dentist I went to the first time, the traumatic time, it was the worst time.

    I don’t remember flossing last night before I went to bed.

    Day 3, Friday, Nov 10 2017 (In truth it is 0400 on 11/11)

    I remember everything else in my day except to write and to floss. I did brush.

    Day 4, Saturday, Nov 10 2017

    I don’t remember (as acutely) the distress I felt on Wednesday when I went to the dentist.

    I don’t remember to grab the trash and recyclables ready to go out.

    I don’t remember a lot of things especially how difficult it is for me to write about things I don’t remember.

    I don’t remember why I first became interested in psychology and how the mind works, especially how my mind works.

    I had forgotten how much food drops onto the keyboard of a twelve year old person’s laptop.

    I don’t remember when I started to share my laptop with my daughter.

    Day 5, Sunday, Nov 11 2017

    I remember the shame I felt in the seventh grade when a kid commented on my stained teeth.

    I remember taking an emery board to my teeth trying to scrape of any brownness.

    I remember I had dental pain at age 18 and had to get a root canal.

    I remember, after the root canal, I did not return to the dentist until I was 30.

    I remember my mom got dentures at age 55.

    Day 6, Monday, Nov 12 2017

    I don’t remember ever writing about the shame I have regarding my teeth and going to the dentist.

    I don’t remember acknowledging the shame.

    I don’t remember it being this hard to think about.

    Day 7, Tuesday, Nov 13 2017

    I remember how healing it can be to write.

    I remember the strides I have taken to be mindful of my need for dental care.

    I remember the last time I had my teeth cleaned how kind Carol was to me and how much she cares about me and my teeth.

    I remember I didn’t cry as much as usual last teeth cleaning and I didn’t cry at all during the crown.

    I remember that I did not take valium before the crown.

    I remember the elasticity of my mind and urge myself to keep on in this positive vein.

    I remember to smile.

    1. Oh I can relate so well to your dental stories including the shame of having so many fillings and now having no teeth at all while I go through the process of getting what I hope will be my final dentures.

      You are not alone, Tina.

      1. Thank you, Beverly, I appreciate your words, and your wisdom, a lot!

        I especially appreciate your kindness, thanks :o)

      2. Strange, that I am going thru dental care myself. A plan of 20 K, over 18 months approx. I took out money I had saved in RRSP plan for along period. After that, they will bury me with all my teeth 🙂 and a nice quiet smile.

        With no job at the present time, Working on healing, trying to get a decent job, but scare to go back in this jungle, I decided I would buy myself a new smile for Christmas…Inside out :). The little money I have will buy me time to rest as well.

        1. Hi Claire, I did the 20K option, too. So far so good, although it is taking longer than I expected. I hope your procedure goes well!

        2. For me, even when I have excellent insurance, I neglect my teeth. I have a long, long dental story that seems it is hard for me to write about. Hearing your stories helps me a lot, thank you for sharing.

          I hope your dental care goes well for you, Claire!
          ~ Keep on smiling~

    2. Tina, this is a powerful piece. I’ve had people write about their teeth before. It’s such a primal thing, our teeth. Not having dental care carries such potential for shame. Thank you for bringing this subject into the open. I love the ending too–showing the path from that shameful place to one of ownership of your teeth and your smile.

      1. Thank you, Laura. I appreciate your wisdom and guidance more than I can express. The piece provided essential therapy for me; very powerful healing in this prompt.

    3. I love “I remember/I don’t remember”.
      I use “The story I never tell”
      Bono writes that Patrick Kennelly an Irish poet told him,”Write as if you were already dead”
      No ego, right? What does that look like in my notebooks??

      1. I love that phrase, “Write as if you were already dead.” To me that means, as if you have nothing to lose. As if no one’s response to your work and your words could throw you.

  3. I remember the Saint Bernard dog that lived on the other side of the church.
    Almost every night in the summer the kids in the neighborhood gathered in front of the church next door to our house for a game of “Kick the Can”, a version of “Hide and Seek” The spacious surroundings of the parsonage property provided many places to hide and the wide step at the entrance of the church was perfect for players to wait for the rest of us to be caught.

    I often crept up on the far side of the church where shrubbery provided cover…at least I did until some new neighbors moved in with a St Bernard dog. His generous leash ran on their clothesline and allowed the enormous animal to roam all the way up the side of the church. When I was hiding he would come up and lie right down on top of me. Ordinarily I loved being with the gentle giant, but having him lie down on top of me was scary. Daddy explained that he was following his natural instincts. That kind of dog was bred to rescue people lost in the mountains in Switzerland and he was only trying to protect me from the cold snow.

    Well, it was summer, and I didn’t need protection from the snow. Besides, it made it really difficult for me to scope out where “It” was and make a run for home and to kick the can. Daddy talked to the neighbors and they shortened the leash quite a lot. The game could go on and he had plenty of roaming space.

  4. I remember a time before language. It is that which I search for in beautiful things. It is that which surrounded me in those first days of life. It is the love of those first faces that greeted my every waking minute. Still, I look for that for that nameless feeling that we can only call . . . Love.

  5. I remember the “family gatherings” we had frequently with other ministers and their families. There were five of them who had gone to Boston Seminary together and had their first churches in the Central New York Methodist Conference. They had been young married couples when in Boston and were starting their families. We often got together, sometimes just two of the families but it was not unusual to gather the whole tribe to spend a day or two if one of our families had rented a vacation cottage on one of the many lakes in Northern Pennsylvania and New York. They were truly like extended family. We called them Aunt and Uncle and their children were like our cousins.

    One summer day my family had gone to visit with the family of an older brother of one of the five. I don’t know if he went to Boston Seminary but he also was a minister. I remember my mother was particularly happy about him because he was a alcoholic and drinking was against the Methodists rules of behavior. She was torn between compassion for his struggle and believing he should not be serving as a minister.

    On that visit, instead of playing with our younger siblings, Ed’s daughter, Roberta had wanted to go to her room. She was thirteen, three years older than I and I felt excited about girl-talk with an older girl.

    Well, what Roberta was excited about learning and wanted to tell me was that a “nice” man had showed her what men and women do when they want to show they love each other. It was very secret so they never did it in front of other people or talked about it. She had provided us with a hot dog, which she planned to use for the man’s part. For a while this was interesting and I have to admit fun, but I soon grew bored and wanted to join the rest of the family. I did feel I had to put up with it at night because it would be awkward to explain to Mommy why I didn’t want to sleep with Roberta.

    We were at their house for the weekend. (It was Daddy’s vacation so he didn’t preach that Sunday.) Roberta kept urging my to go to her room again, but I refused preferring to be with the family, even if it was with our mothers, who were safely in the kitchen when the younger children were napping.

    I never told anyone about this, even my young friends. It may have been shame, but it also at that time just seemed too yucky to talk about. Years later, I was about nineteen and Rachel twenty-two. We were spending the weekend with another of the families whose boys were younger. I think Stevie was about fifteen. My mother took me aside and said their mother had told her something she just couldn’t believe and wanted to know what I thought. Stevie had told his mother that when they were in the deep water out of easy sight of the cottage Roberta had pulled down his bathing suit and fondled him. I was relieved to finally tell her. I said I believed it because Roberta had done that to me. It was more important to tell the truth than to keep Roberta’s secret from years before.

    In recent years with all the disclosures of molestation often by trusted adults: parents, clergy, scout leaders and other people with easy access to children, I have thought about whom the “nice” man must have been who taught her about “love”. I realized that there had been a reason I didn’t not feel comfortable with her father in the same way I did with those other friends I called Uncle. There have been many other loving and decent men in my life that I have never even had to worry about trusting. I think it is such a shame that these perverted people have given a bad reputation to decent folks. I am sure there many more decent people than those others disgusting sexual predators. I hope that more of us will be proactive when we suspect something and approve those old myths about “boys will be boys” and “guy talk”.

    1. Beverly, thanks for sharing this story, one I haven’t heard from you in all these years. As a child, you had enough of a foundation to find a no in you–to go back to where you felt safe even if you were losing face with Roberta.

      1. It’s true. I haven’t written about this. I have been fortunate not to have the kind of experience of sexual abuse that many on this site write about. I did experience psychological and emotional abuse from a Jekyll and Hyde, passive/aggressive mother and then my husband. At the time of this story I was-eight years old and had only recently become bored with the “show me yours” game children often play…especially after Denny, the six-year-old boy who lived across the street offered to put his thing in my hole! At first this didn’t seem much different than “you show me yours”. It was only years later, when I began to learn how many people had been victims of predators that were members or friends of the family, I began to suspect that Roberta and Denny had probably been molested by a parent.

        I think if any one lost face it was Roberta. She never pursued me again. Because our families were friends, we remained friendly for a number of years…long enough to know that her life wasn’t working out too well. Last time I saw her, she was afraid she was pregnant and her boyfriend was abusing her. Then there had been a “shot-gun’ wedding so the baby would have a name and her husband abused her.

  6. I remember that day, more years than I care to count ago. A plastic toy jeep and a five-year-old imagination are a powerful combination. I was fighting wars, and driving to exotic destinations. My mother approached from behind, then stood in front, arms folded, looking down as I played in the dirt.
    “Where did you get that toy?”
    “I found It”
    “Exactly where did you find it.” Mom began tapping her toe to the ground. That always meant trouble.
    Staring at the ground, I began to choose my words cautiously.
    “On Eddie’s front porch.” Eddie Webber was a boy about my age who had great taste in toys.
    “You did not find that toy; you took it without permission. That is stealing, and it’s a sin. God can see you do it and he does not like it.
    Surprisingly she didn’t insist that I return it, but in retrospect, I feel sure she was watching from the window.
    I looked up into the sky in all its vastness. I felt the eyes of God almighty himself staring down at me.
    I ran to Eddie’s front porch and timidly placed it on the porch. I ran away as fast as I could.
    All the fun had run out of it.

    1. Phil,
      I love the amusing way you tell this profound lesson. Ah, yes, the “God sees you” line. Your mother was surely a force to be reckoned with.

    2. These childhood moments are always powerful. I just had one with my granddaughter the other day. She got a hold of a pair of scissors and cut a whole in a cashmere sweater and we had to have “the conversation….”

  7. I remember “Touch-me-nots”.
    Where I lived in New York State everyone knew the humble flowering shrub. It is not one you would likely plant on purpose in a showy bed: the bush is rangy; the delicate flowers (pink or yellow?) are unimpressive; and it has a nasty habit of throwing its seeds several feet away. That is where the “Touch-me-not” gets its name. The inch long pod full of seeds swells and its wall becomes very thin. When it is ripe, at the slightest bump, it will burst open and the seeds scatter seemingly everywhere.

    For a kid it is just this quality that holds fascination. The urge to touch is irresistible and several minutes may be spent finding and bursting each one.
    For an adult, being the first to show the next generation of poppers brings back all the fun of those childhood moments.

    I wonder if there are Touch-me-nots in Santa Cruz?

  8. I Remember, 11/15/17

    I remember being punished for staying in the sun too long. My mother slapped me and shouted that she had told me not to be in the sun too much. She was color struck, which means that she believed that whiteness was good and blackness was bad. I remember the shock and pain of that moment when she proved to me that she didn’t love who I was, that I couldn’t change my skin and, therefore, I would never have her approval and love.

    I remember the curl of her lip as she looked me up and down from toes to head and back again. Her contempt was palpable. I learned to stand for inspection and not cry. I would be beaten for crying so I learned to stand there with as little expression on my face as possible. Frowning or looking scared just meant more punishment. Today people often comment on how calm I am. They have no idea that I’m often a roiling mess inside.

    I remember hours spent alone in my room. I hid there to keep from seeing my mother’s hatred. Staying alone meant that I didn’t trigger her to hit me. This lesson learned so young stayed with me so that I hid from the world, locked in my house, for over a decade.

    I remember the white dolls and there only being white children in all of my books. I discovered that my mother’s feelings were generated by the dominant culture that taught her to hate anyone dark, including herself. You don’t get water from a stone. There was no love to be had from someone so full of hate.

    Today I remember that I tried so hard to be good, to show white people that blacks were really civilized, that I had brains and a moral compass. What I didn’t understand then was that no one really cared about any of that. The color of my skin was more important than the truth about my character, and by extension, the character of black people everywhere.

    Today I remember the deep depression, the despair, when I finally realized that I could not get love from my mother or the dominant culture.

    1. Fran, this heartbreaking account really took me inside your despair and isolation as a child–and into the devastation of having a mother who couldn’t see you. Thank for sharing the terrible pain of racism with us.

      1. Thank you, Laura. I’m finding it just as difficult to write about racism as it is to write about sexual abuse. I’m so glad you’re here, that this is here.

    2. I agree with Laura.

      Even though this was hard to read. Heartbreaking. I am glad you shared it here!

  9. I remember Old Sam Nov. 17 2017

    Sam was a long time resident of our neighborhood on the Mare Island Naval Base. He was a scrawny Siamese cat that had just shown up one day. Nobody knew quite how long he had been around. One of the neighbors had started feeding him. Shortly before we moved in his feeding had been taken over by a second neighbor. A couple of years later they moved and I became the new caretaker.

    Sam was not a cuddly cat. He tolerated it when people tried to make friends or the children picked him up, but as soon as he could release himself he would take up his usual curmudgeonly meandering making a crotchety Siamese “Meow” with each step. He reminded us of an old man so we called him “Old Sam”.

    One day I noticed that he was wearing some kind of ID tag. He would usually hold back until I had put his food down and moved back. One day he let me get close enough to see the tag. It had the name and phone number of a veterinarian in Vallejo, the city on the other side of the base gate. I called the number. Soon I got a call from the cat’s owner. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Well, most people moved out of housing because they were being transferred to another duty station, so we all thought Sam’s owners were long gone. It turned out that Old Sam’s family had retired and just moved “out into town”.

    They were delighted to be reunited with the treasured pet they were sure was lost forever or dead. When they came to get him Sam readily let them pick him up and rewarded them with affectionate nuzzling. Maybe those crotchety meows were really just longing to be with his family again.

    1. Awww, that was wonderful. Thank you for taking care of Old Sam and getting him back to his family. Siamese are notorious for bonding with one person and never being more than cordial to others. Sam fits the profile but you took care of him anyway.

      Fran AKA, the cat lady of 24th Street

      1. I hadn’t known that about Siamese cats but it did seem to fit Sam.

        Thank you for sharing that bit of info!

  10. I Remember, 11-17-17

    I remember trailing behind my cousin, Butchie, one hot summer night. I was staying with Aunt Ann and Uncle Norvel so Butchie was given the task of watching out for me. I was seven, he was sixteen and headed to hang out with his friends.

    Unlike my mom, and most of my adult relatives, Butchie was always happy to see me. He never complained when I was visiting and Aunt Ann told him to take me with him. I had learned to stay out of the way so I never caused him, or his friends, any trouble while I was with them.

    In my mother’s house, I had learned to sit still and be silent. That was a lot for someone who naturally wanted to sing and dance but I learned. What I would do is go away into books or, if I didn’t have a book, into my mind. I created adventures based on what I had read or seen on TV (there was one long-running daydream of me being Circus Boy and having an elephant as my best friend…) It was a decade later before I realized that the characters were all white and usually male so the little black, female child I was had one powerful imagination. Or did I?

    Looking back, I see that I wanted to be the white characters I daydreamed about. This means that I wasn’t seeing my real self in those dreams. I became a white boy to have my adventures.

    This reminds me that all of my nighttime dreams are segregated. I either dream of black people or white people, never the two together. I was put in an integration program when I was eleven, and I stayed in similar programs until I was in my early twenties, so I grew up often being the only black person in a situation. Based on my dreams, subconsciously I’m still in segregated circumstances.

    Now I’m curious. In looking back at my dreams, when I’m with black people I’m in a sort of “family” environment. It’s my old job on Family Matters with the cast and crew. When I dream of white people, I’m often being challenged somehow. Last night I was fighting back against being thrown out of my job. Hmmm, that’s what happened to me on FM, I got fired. For years my dreams of white people ended in disaster but in the past two months, I’ve been successful at defending myself.

    Ah, I see. When I won my court case in October, it was because I successfully defended myself. That win has made me more confident right down to my subconscious. Can’t wait to see what I dream tonight!

    Wow, this is an amazing exercise!

    1. I’m glad you had Butchie in your life.

      I loved that winning the court case made you feel more confident “right down to your subconscious”! and I hope you will have ore experiences that have that effect

  11. I remember one morning about twenty years ago. I woke up and went into the bathroom…looked into the mirror and thought…”I’m White.”

    I realized I had never had that thought before. I had really never had to have that thought before, because I could go about in the world just knowing I was me.

    In fifty of then sixty years of my life I had sometimes been aware of what we now refer to as “unconscious racism” around me. There really wasn’t much opportunity to experience that because in the part of the country…small town Central New York there were very few blacks, or at least, very few that we saw. Two of the six kids in my 7-12 grade school were from large families so those other kids had to be somewhere: possibly in small schools and churches in the villages out in the country-side.

    When I mentioned what I believed to my friends they would deny it, but then something else would happen that validated what I had seen.

    That awareness of my whiteness was one of the many “ah-so” moments in my long journey to becoming aware of the privilege of being white, that subtle cultural racism that was part of me, and the many ways I stumbled into unconscious racism along the way.

    1. Do you know about The Whiteness Project? You can find it at whitenessproject.org. It’s videos of whites talking about what it means to be white. The first set of videos was filmed in Buffalo, New York. The second set are of Millennials in Texas.

      I hold anti-racism meetings every month and have shared these with our members. They say they always get something interesting out of watching them. If you go there, I hope you do too.

      1. An interesting website. The experience of these young people who are in the generation of my grandchildren reflects some of the shifts in our post school segregation.. I also have participated in where I can share experience with others on this very complex and frustrating issue!

  12. Memories

    I was on a river rafting trip, about 1 week in out of a two-week drift down the Green River that leads to the Grand Canyon. I had somehow injured my leg, but managed to sit on a boulder rinsed by the river water, while on a break from the adventurous ride. I was enjoying the solo time, and amazing peace that had embraced me, enjoying the feel of the moving river on my feet when suddenly a memory came to me of a past life that must have been lived in the locale or one similar of the river rafting trip. I had been born lame in a tribe whose culture approved drowning such children. My parents were taking me to the river to end my life when the medicine man intervened. Evidently, he saw something in me and he asked my parents to let him raise me. I became his herb gatherer for the medicines and ceremonies that he used. It was something useful my lame leg allowed me to do slowly and carefully so that I could notice the plants before gathering them. It was difficult to jolt myself out of that past life memory. It was as though I was living that life in the present. It was a very convincing other worldly experience for me, and one that would be difficult to forget. It was something that made total sense to me at the time, and felt impactfully true in the core of myself…AND it all defies analysis.

    Another memory came to me in a dream….At the time I was seeing a therapist for the first time in my life, in my mid-life while going through a divorce. It was definitely a painful, but transformative time. I was an infant in the dream, and my father was changing my diaper when he suddenly and unknowingly, stuck the pen into my diaper and as well into my skin that was dragged into the sharpness and then clamped and closed in the diaper. I was hysterically crying and very frustrated that I couldn’t explain to my father what had happened. In the dream, I knew exactly what had happened and was totally aware of my inability to use skills equal to my cognitive skills, i.e., I couldn’t talk, nor defend myself from a red-faced angry, volatile, and frustrated father who couldn’t figure out my hysteria. A few weeks after the dream, I went to a family Thanksgiving dinner. I got the opportunity to ask Dad about the dream for it felt like no other dream I had experienced before…it was so real. He looked at me with a horror-strickend face and said, “you remember that!?!” He quickly stood up, grabbed my Mom and left the dinner before dessert. He had a stroke shortly thereafter so I never was able to continue my conversation with him.

    My brother is a clinical psychologist, Ph.D., and I told him about this experience. He pretty much brushed it off as an impossibility because thinking himself to be an expert on the ways of memories and dreams, i.e. they were not reliable and very changeable. I knew he was wrong from the core of myself.

    Twenty years later, after my Mom moved in with me and my husband, needing extra care in her elder years, we were talking one morning when I got up my courage to ask her about my dream. She stopped and stared at me very quietly, and then told me that the incident had haunted my father for many years. He had felt terrible about it all. She told me I had pooed and made a big mess so he wasn’t excited to change my diaper and clean up, so he was irritated to begin with. He impatiently jammed the pin into my diaper and got the skin caught and fastened it. Evidently, he had never mentioned my dream to my mother. She said I was a young baby, the episode had happened before I could walk or talk.

    So, I’ve learned that memory goes beyond this life’s experience, or before memory sets in, in a particular lifetime. I know it does, and it would be difficult to convince me otherwise.

    Presently, I’ve begun a study of my ancestry, and all ready, intuitive memories of my grandparents have slipped in which will be difficult to ignore. Are they true, or just in my imagination? Dreams, imagination, intuition all work together in putting memory puzzles together. It’s an exciting thing for me to think about, and the wild frontier is right there to be explored…..Autumn is the time when the veil is thinnest.

    1. WOW! I love having those past-life flashes!

      As for your dream, science is finally discovering that babies are intelligent and know more than we think. I read about an experiment where a pregnant woman was having an ultrasound and they made noise like a loud argument near her. The baby actually flinched and tightened its body. Those early months are not blank slates and once we get here, we’re even more aware. I remember being in the incubator after I was born.

      Sorry you didn’t hear it from your dad but I’m glad your mother validated that memory for you.

    2. Thank you, Fran, for both your thoughtful insight and conveying to me the scientific data that indicates that babies have a depth to understand and feel things way before they learn the skills that make them able to move and speak….I certainly experienced that one in the dream anyway. I look at my grandbaby and feel like I understand her much better from this perspective.

    3. My father was a minister and we moved several times when I was young. I was able to identify that at least three memories were in the house we moved from when I was eighteen months old. Those memories had an element of trauma, though nothing like the experience you shared.
      Thank you for sharing your experience.

  13. I Don’t Remember

    I don’t remember meeting my mother’s boyfriend Eddie. My memories are brief at best and are, for the most part, non-existent so that’s not unusual but I tend to remember being introduced to the men she dated. She made a ritual out of it. She would make me stand in front of her, her hands would be resting on my shoulders. She would say, “This is my daughter. She means more to me than anything else. What you do to her, you do to me.” Sounds lovely, doesn’t it but I hated it.

    My mother hated me so what was she doing telling men that I meant more to her than anything else? She would tell men that and then drive them crazy. She was beautiful and the men flocked to her, men of all races wanted to be with her. When she finally chose someone, they would be so proud to have her on their arm but, the truth is, my mother hated men.

    She was an incest survivor and her relationships with men would be contentious. They would have to buy her things and put up with her “no sex” policy. She could out-think them all because she made it her business to only go out with men who were not her intellectual or educational equals. She would make fun of the things they said that were wrong and they often got things wrong. By the time she was through with them, they had lost what little self-esteem they had. At the same time, she was impervious to any insult. She would smile patronizingly and laugh at their attempts to make her sorry for what she’d said or done. She ruled the relationships.

    Not surprisingly the men she dated would turn to me to try and get in her good graces. They would buy me things and talk nicely to me. If we were alone, they would try to get me to put in a good word for them, “Tell your momma that I gave you candy,” “Tell her that I really like her.” Also, not surprisingly, a couple of them took out their anger on me. (Remember, “What you do to her you do to me…”) and when I was seven, one of them molested me.

    Eddie had hung around long enough to figure out that my mother didn’t love me. He saw that she often punished me and would ignore me for days. This meant that he was alone with me a lot of the time. In those days, my mother was self-medicating her PTSD with scotch and Valium. The combination left her unconscious and unresponsive, and me totally unprotected. I don’t remember the first time he did it, but I do remember one time.

    I was very young when I learned how to leave my body when I was afraid. I’d learned to leave my body because of my mother’s punishments. This is the primary reason I have so few memories of anything from my childhood – I was “out” most of the time. This particular day I was present because I felt safe. My best friend, Bea, had spent the night and then Eddie drove the four of us to a park in Staten Island. It was a real treat for me and Bea who rarely got to ride in a car or to go so far from home in Brooklyn.

    I remember most of that day and it was glorious. The park had lakes and we got to watch people in rowboats go out on the water. My mother wasn’t interested so we didn’t get to do that, but it was exciting just to see it. Bea and I ran around giggling and shouting, something I was not normally allowed to do and then we had a picnic with mom’s good fried chicken, potato salad, and hot dogs.

    All was going well until my mother stepped in a hole and twisted her ankle. The fun was over. Mom was hurt and all she wanted to do was get back home, so we left. After we got off the ferry, she had Eddie take her to the hospital so they could X-ray her ankle. Meanwhile, he was to take me and Bea home.

    I knew what was coming so I begged to stay with her in the hospital but my tears just made her angry so we had to leave. On the way home, Eddie turned the rear-view mirror so that he could see me in the back seat. I saw him looking and turned away.

    When we got home, I tried to get to stay with Bea but her mom said no, we’d played long enough. This left me alone with Eddie. I remember him putting away the food and then he came to me where I was standing next to the kitchen. I was afraid to go to my bedroom. He pushed me against the wall and I began to cry. My mother hated it when I cried. It made her so angry that I began teaching myself not to do it. Eddie knew that this was a problem for me and he said, “Stop crying or I will tell your mother.” It was then that I left my body.

    I don’t remember him leaving the house that day or bringing my mother home. I don’t remember how long they dated or why their relationship ended. I don’t even remember feeling safe because he was gone. I have no memories of home or school or anything from that time. When I came back to my body, it was four years later. I was eleven and my mother was dating someone else.

    His name was Pedro. He barely spoke English and he was much younger than my mother. He lasted longer than any of the other men in her life and it was eight years later, when I was nineteen that he propositioned me. This time I stayed in my body and I told my mother what had happened (I never told her about Eddie. I knew she would blame me.) When she asked Pedro why he did it, he said, “To get back at you.” Oh, yes, it was “What you do to her you do to me,” all over again.

    Unlike Eddie, Pedro didn’t leave. In fact, when I returned to Brooklyn from Los Angeles where I’d moved after college, my mother had him give me away at my wedding…

  14. Thank you, Laura, for this prompt. Even though none of these memories are likely to find their way into a much longer piece (or you never know) it was fun to have my writing muscles awakened.

    I’m always surprised at how many memories I haven’t written about in all these years!

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