A Childhood Imagined by Sarah Anne Childers
“Will you tell me your first memory?” I ask my daughter, Anita Belle. It is morning and we are in the kitchen. I slice strawberries for her lunchbox. She balances on her belly on the edge of the table and kicks her legs in the air, stalling on brushing her teeth.
I ask because it has occurred to me that Anita Belle has long ago formed the impression that she will name her first memory. This is not a momentous revelation; she is seven after all, practically a teenager according to her. It baffles me that I do not know the first memory of this creature that shares my home and owns my heart. I am greedy for her recollection, like a treasure hunter obsessed.
Anita Belle looks over at me, slides off the table. “Well,” she begins, and the word never had so many syllables. “I must have been about one year old and...” I hang on her words but pretend not to. Her eyes don’t leave mine. The space between us in the kitchen has become her stage, and she fully inhabits it to unspool a story conjured on the spot. I frown. I do not assume exclusivity between the ides of memory and story. I know how one can dissolve into the other, that memories are both fodder for stories and stories themselves of course they are, the moment memory is narrated whether to ourselves or to others it grows story wings. I know this, but a story unmoored from her history our history is not what I’m after from my daughter.
I interrupt her tale. I do it kindly because the child hates to be disbelieved, all the more so when the story is fantastical. She will scream and stomp away, sob face down on the rug if she senses doubt. I am very careful when I stop her. “Sweets, what I meant to ask is can you think of something that happened when you were very small? And once you’ve thought of that time, can you think of a time from when you are even younger, your very first memory?”
Anita Belle is quiet for a moment, gazes up and to the side, which is where she looks when asked to recall. Then she tells me her memory in one rolling thought. “I was with Evie and we were at the beach and Evie was a baby and I threw rocks for her.”
I smile because I remember that time at the pocket beach by the ferry dock when Anita Belle was just two and her cousin Evie was a few months old. It was late winter and the sea and sky were the muted gray of new concrete, the sea freshly poured and dark, the cured clouded sky shades lighter. Only the beach rocks offered color. Anita Belle chose a rock the size of her fist. “Do you want to do it?” she asked, offering it to Evie who balanced head lolling and arms flapping on her mother’s knee. “Oh honey, Evie’s too little,” said all of us adults at once, the chorus offering explanation, moving things along. "Ok," Anita Belle said to her little cousin, nonplussed. "I will do it for you." Splash!
In the kitchen I tell my daughter how she pronounced "it" as "eet" and that her tangled hair was pulled back into the messiest of ponytails because she wouldn't let me brush it, and that after the beach we went to a diner where she ate only fries with loads of ketchup. Anita Belle laps up these details, trills in a high voice "Do you want to do eet? I will do eet for you!" through teeth brushing and our walk to art camp.
Later I wonder if Anita Belle will swap out her first memory like she does her favorite color – today teal but violet only yesterday. I wonder if she will forget about that time on the beach throwing rocks for Evie in the winter all together in the inevitable though troublingly named process of childhood amnesia, a culling of the majority of our earliest memories.
I am sentimental about memories, mine and now too Anita Belle's because I know the stakes. I do not care so much for things; memory-stories are the heirlooms I collect. From the most minuscule knick-knack to the sturdy fainting couch with ornate carved legs, I clean and arrange because it gives me an excuse to touch, even the ugly ones, even the ones I never desired to own but memories don't have return policies. It is truth that I cannot curate my daughter’s childhood memories. I cannot pick and choose which impressions survive amnesia, cannot display them chronologically or perhaps thematically, cannot pen the explanatory text posted beneath each one on walls painted to complement the memories' hues. It is truth, and while I am smart enough to know it, I am not wise enough or good enough to extinguish my longing for a crack at ghostwriting through memory-story the autobiography of my child's imagined childhood.
Sarah Anne Childers is the online editor at luciajournal.com where she happily toggles between curating creatives as an editor and creatively curating ideas and the words they live in as a writer.