17 November 2013

16: memory

I feel like I remember getting a bath when I was a baby, on the counter in the house that my grandparents lived in when I was born. I can't be sure, though. I think it's impossible, because I was only three months old when we left for Liberia, and when we came back, they'd moved. But I have a picture in my head of the underside of the cupboards and a vague impression of that gold color that was popular in the 1970s. And I remember being cold.
The first thing I remember for sure is sitting on the cement porch in our first house in Buchanan, playing with a little plastic school bus, looking back over my shoulder at my mom in the doorway. I was not yet 1, my mom says.

I think I remember my mom reading books to me just about as far back as my memory goes, back when the books were Little Golden Books.

I remember sitting on the bricks on the side of our next house and the older girl next door telling me, when I was two or three, that white skin like mine was ugly and black skin like hers was beautiful, and running inside crying to ask my mom if it was true. ("Both black skin and white skin are beautiful," my mom told me, and I believed her, because she knew everything.)

There is a big cluster of memories around our first trip back to the US and my brother being born, which may have been before or after the skin color incident. I remember going to Meijer, and riding the mechanical horse, and picking out balloons, and the laundry chute, and riding in the kid seat on the back of a bike, and the dead pumpkins on the street (smashed jack-o-lanterns), and the lonely feeling of trying to fall asleep on the pullout couch at the B.'s house when my parents went to the hospital for the birth, and seeing my little brother through the nursery glass.

I remember getting my newborn brother out of his crib in his dark room when he was crying, and the shocked expressions on my mom and Oma's faces when I came down the hall, pulling him by his head, his body dangling between my legs. 

I remember being young enough to go to the nursery at church in the US.

I remember being in a Sunday school class at the Open Bible church in Liberia, with the bigger kids laughing at me because I couldn't write my name, and thinking (maybe saying), "I don't know how to write my name! I'm only three!"

And then there start to be a lot of memories: my brother pulling my hair out in chunks, my fourth birthday, my brother trying to escape the house via the locked screen doors (he would climb the horizontal slats to get to the hook), trying to learn to tie a bow on the waist strings of my jean skirt, really reading for the first time.


My Spanish teacher today asked me if I dream, and I said yes, but I'm usually too tired to remember the things I dream.

But then, driving home, I remembered my dream from last night. It's gone again, now.

Memory is a very funny thing. I have very clear picture memories of when I was young, but when I went back to Liberia, the pictures weren't always in the places I thought they were. I suppose when you are little, when someone else drives or walks you everywhere, you don't need to remember how the pieces fit together. 

Sometimes, driving home at night in Liberia, I would lie in the back seat of the car, looking up at the stars in their brightness that would never happen in light-polluted North America, and I would try to guess when we were making which turn, when we would get home.

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