I don’t have much of a memory to speak of. When people tell me about their childhoods – the good and the bad – I listen in amazement. I am amazed that they have any recollection of it at all. My own childhood centers around a few moments here and there.
For example, when I was, maybe, five years old. I was playing a game with the dog outside, calling to her through the kitchen window while she raced around the house to find the source of my voice. We were living in California at the time, in a typical ranch duplex found on military bases. The house was so typical in fact, that some thirty years later when my family found ourselves temporarily living in military housing the floor plan was familiar to me. I had lived in the same house thousands of miles away.
The dog game was endless fun for me. Nearly endless anyway. My mother told me it was time to quit. I slid the window closed one last time, jumped off the kitchen chair, and bust my head open. I don’t remember the number of stitches, but I do remember my face buried in a pillow, me screaming, while the doctors closed the wound. I lived to tell about it, obviously, so my face couldn’t have been buried that deeply in the pillow.
It’s not all bad memories. I remember the playground near that same house in California and it’s large swing set. That’s not entirely true. I don’t remember the swing set as much as remember the red painted post buried in the sawdust and one particular fat, gray, Siamese cat. That cat eventually found it’s way home with us. His name was Smoky but, like his name sake, his memory rises only to fade into thin whisps and then disappear altogether.
Most people’s memory doesn’t improve with age, and mine is no exception. This is a terrible thing because it seems to me I start out with less than the average person. No I most certainly cannot remember what I ate last night, but even more troubling is that likely I don’t remember what I planned to cook for my family tonight. Naturally, the proper response to this is to create a journal so that I am forced to remember – required to write down – all the small things in life, and thus look back and smile in fondness. Or else shirk in horror. But the journals are purchased, brought home – shipped to my mailbox is a more likely description here – filled in diligently and then less sporadically, until eventually and ironically, forgotten.
Not having a memory can pose a problem for a writer. Especially for the types of writing I am doing here where so much of it depends on reflection. I don’t often believe that I have any relevant situational anecdotes to provide the examples of anything I think I wish to say.
And yet, here I am cobbling together what little bit I can remember, following bread crumb trails first here and then there until I very nearly have a meal, or at least a whole slice of bread. I know some people who look at this process with cynicism; accusing people of remaking their path to fit their present. But I disagree.
In math we can look at the number 9 and then look at all the ways we can get to that number. I may have started with 8 and then added 1. But you may have started with only 1 and then needed to add 2 and then 2 then 2 and then 1. Some people multiply 3 by 3. But in the end, we all arrive at nine. The same is true for our lives.
I started out with a Baptist bus ride, subtracted the skirts only, added on a heavy dose of pentecostalism and then multiplied it all by a charismatic renewal. In the end all of it was subtracted so that I wound up at the One Holy and Apostolic Church. The math varies but the answer should always be Truth.
If I squint into the past I can remember the bus rides and the praise and worship and the happenstance visits to a Catholic church. I’m not making up the memories to fit my present. It was the experience of those memories that made me.