Thursday, July 30, 2020

When you're not there

Someone asked me this morning what my earliest memory is. I often tell my writing students that I recall when my dad and I visited my mom at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland after my younger brother was born; I was three and a half years old. I'm sure that I possess snippets of images from even earlier days, but this memory's a vivid one. My mom had long red hair, was smiling in the lobby, holding my new brother in light blue blanket, my dad and I approaching....

My parents tell me that this never happened, that I wasn't at the hospital that day. I was home, being looked after by my older siblings. I guess I have to trust my parents on this one—their authority as witnesses and participants is pretty unassailable, after all. And yet.... the image of my mom holding my brother is so crystal clear, even narrative, in its details, that can't let go of it, have in fact replayed it countless times over the decades, and it's become a kind of touchtone for my relationship with my family and with Paul, with whom I'm in many was the closest of all of my siblings (in part because he's closest in age to me). The confounding and profound questions remains: where did I grab that image? Did I dream it? See a comparable scene in a movie, TV show, or magazine, and will my family into it, to posses and take it over and name it as ours? (Mine?) Am I conflating a different event that verifiably occurred with this fantasy? If so, how? Or the more interesting question to me: why? If we are the sum total of our memories and if many of our earliest, formative memories are suspect—let's face it, invented—like mine, what does that say about our past and our relationship to it? Our personalities and temperaments are forged in part by the events in our past, and if some of those events are created wholesale...well, which came first.... If this fictional image of my mom and brother was the result of misfiring synapse gaps or the product of pure fantasy, that it's stayed in me for decades, feeling as if it occurred as vividly as last night's dinner (if soft around the edges), seems vital. I was born at the same hospital. Does that mean anything? Regardless of how much of the past we create, the stories the past tells informs our present and future as surely as the news on CNN. None of this is new, of course and yet startles me every time. You tell me.

Holy Cross Hospital of Silver Spring postcard, ca. 1960s, via CardCow

No comments: