My Earliest Memory

Memories Lost

My earliest memory from childhood seems to be from about the age of 9 years old. I have vague memories from an earlier time. Snippets of things lIke being a cheerleader in pop warner football or the car that my parents used to drive. I don’t remember the color or any details about it, just that it was a station wagon. Clearly, I have no significant memories from an earlier age. 

When I was 8ish my mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I can remember her having treatments and losing her hair. She wore a wig but hated the way it felt so she preferred to wear a bandana. I can almost picture her petite build and some of her facial features. Although, without a picture I am certain the ability to visualize her would have faded long ago. I can’t remember her voice or her demeanor. I imagine a kind, caring mother. Nothing has indicated otherwise and I hope that never changes. It’s soothing to think that I inherited some good from at least one of my parents. I’m not sure I could handle the thought of both of them being evil. 

I remember my mom had a mastectomy done and it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized to her lungs. It was late summer. She died in early December. Although I was young, I could sense the devastation and fear that possessed my family. Knowing that the end was near had to have been difficult, never mind the fact that she was 39 years old with 10 kids. I often think about what that had to have been like for her. I believe it had to be emotionally excruciating. I am not sure how she could have prepared for her death, how does anyone prepare for death? I feel complete sadness when I think about it, almost as if I am experiencing it myself. I instantaneously put myself in her shoes, like I am living her life and my anxiety mounts. My heart hurts for her, even now, 20 years later.

My fondest memory from childhood is when my mom was nearing the end stages of her life and we enrolled in a week long camp program.The camp was called Camp Good Days. It’s truly bothersome to me that my fondest memory and really my only good memory is from going to a camp for a week. Not just any camp, a camp that is designed for families who have been touched by cancer or other challenges. How is it that the best memory that I have is from a camp where half of your time is spent in a circle talking about your feelings and learning how to cope with death. It’s honestly infuriating and I blame my dad. 

The more I try and scrape a few detailed memories from an earlier time, anger takes over as every bit I start to piece together is clouded with unwanted images or voices that have plagued my mind for years. My brain is so clogged up with negativity and bad memories that any good ones have been pushed away in order to make room for the plethora of bad ones. My mind and body have become so accustomed to hurt and pain that I almost feel numb to it. Numb as in I just gave up, I stopped fighting. Every time he would touch me, look at me, rape me, my whole body would become lifeless and my mind became blank. I felt as if it would never end. Eventually, I would be old enough to leave or my dad would die. Best case scenario, I would just die. If I died I wouldn’t have to live with this pain for the rest of my life. Thankfully, I am here, I am breathing and I am getting stronger everyday. I am trying to realize that what happened to me was not okay and it was not my fault. 

As I sit here and wade through all of my memories so I can fixate on just one, the one good one I have, I sometimes get stuck in a different memory. It’s like referencing something in a book or checking the contents page to find out what chapter you want read. To go back as far as I want to, I have to go through pages upon pages of content. The list seems never ending and it becomes exhausting. Eventually, I spend so much time trying to avoid flashbacks and the sick feeling I get, I give up my search. Sometimes, I can get through several chapters and somehow I am able to remember bits and pieces from before my mom died. I try really hard to keep those memories at the top of the list, rearranging my contents page.

Camp Good Days was just that, good days until there were no more good days left. I remember events mostly, like when we did a polar bear swim or learning archery and horseback riding. I can sort of imagine the iciness of the water during the swim, or how we were required to wear water shoes due to the rocks in the lake. I can remember being surrounded by trees during archery training and there were 3 targets set up. I can remember crossing a creek on the horse but, a part of me doesn’t think that is a real memory. The horse back raiding yes, but, the part about the creek I am unsure of. Sometimes a memory that I so badly want to remember gets lost in the fog and I have to wait for it to clear so I can retrieve it again.

The most detailed memory I have from camp is a trust fall exercise. I honestly can’t remember if my mom was there or if my siblings were involved. I remember putting a harness on that was attached to a rope. There was a ladder built into a telephone pole. You had to climb the ladder and walk across a beam connected to another pole. You would think that you would go completely across to the other side, but instead you had to stop in the middle, lean back and fall. I had to rely completely on the person holding the rope to get me down safely. In writing this now, I realize that was probably the last time I truly trusted someone at least, that was until I met my husband. I do remember a few other things before my mom died but they are so minute that it’s hard for me to put the pieces together and decipher the “Who? What? When? and Where?”.

The hardest part for me is, I was so young when my mom died and it has been 20 years since her passing, I am unsure if the accuracy of what I remember about her. It is upsetting that I can remember such vivid details about my abuse and my abuser. The look on his face, the smell of his breath or the feel of the bed, couch, floor, chair and so on, but the validity of my good memories are in question. I know to some people it might not matter what really happened. I should be grateful I have at least one good memory to hold onto, even if it is a possible figment of my imagination. I can’t help but want to know the truth, I’m so desperate for it. I feel if just maybe I know the truth that will help me remember more good memories from my past in turn drowning out the bad ones. It’s wishful thinking but I am determined to figure out a way to let go of the past and stop allowing what happened to me control me. I’m tired of it consuming my everyday life.

I wish I was normal. I wish I could go out and go to work and not feel on the defensive all the time. I feel skittish and scared like I’m back with my dad and I have no control. Everyone else around me is controlling me, my thoughts and my feelings. I feel safest at home but even then sometimes a noise or the darkness can scare me. I feel like a shadowy figure of my dad is haunting me. Nighttime is hard for me and most of the time I hate closing my eyes. Every time I do I am transported to a moment in time that is full of agony. A time where bits and pieces of my innocence are being ripped from me. I’m trapped in this memory and I can’t get out. Its a recurring nightmare and I can see myself beating on a glass cage surrounding me. I am screaming but no one can hear me. The room is getting smaller and smaller, closing in on me and my abuser, forcing me to be face to face with him. I am a little girl again and I can almost feel his hand reach out and grab me. I panic myself awake. My heart is racing, I clutch my chest as fear has taken over and for a moment I can’t tell the difference between a nightmare and reality. I take a deep breath and scan over the room. It was only a dream.
I want to go back to sleep but I am so scared of ending up back in that glass cage that I fight my sleep. I only wish I could fight my abuser instead. I usually flip through my phone or try and find something light and comedic to help calm my nerves and take my mind off of the terror I just experienced. Eventually I am able to lull myself back to sleep. Maybe tomorrow night will be better.

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