Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wanted: Third Grade

Did you ever lose a year of your life? Sometime after my marriage I was helping my mother clean out one of her storage boxes. I came across a large yellow envelop full of childish drawings, done in crayon on that flimsy paper used in elementary schools, most of them folded in half like primitive Hallmark cards. As I flipped through them, reading phrases like ‘Get well soon’ and looking at names scrawled in staggering letters, I was completely puzzled. Where had these come from? Why were they in my mother’s trunk? So I asked. And she said, “Those were from your third grade class. Don’t you remember? That was the year you went to X Elementary and you had pneumonia that winter. Your class made these get-well cards for you and your teacher brought them by.”

Ahh. Puzzle solved. No, I didn’t remember. I experienced mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and have almost no memories of the first seventeen years of my life.

I have become somewhat adjusted to this condition. Since I can’t join in, I just smile politely when people around me start to reminisce about their early years. I do have some of what I call ‘snapshot’ memories, when literally the memory has no ‘before’ and ‘after’ context, but exists on its own, a tiny little film clip. Most of these I can’t place in time other than a very general period, and sometimes I can’t even place the place.

But this was the first concrete proof I had of this. For grades one through six I had attended, I thought, Z Elementary School. But no! For one whole year we had lived in another place and I had attended another school in another building with another teacher and with other children. Children who had drawn and colored get-well cards for me and a teacher who had brought them to me. And I had no memories of any of it. No memories of the location, of the building, of the bus rides every day to and from school, of the teacher, or of the children whose names I saw signed on the cards I was holding in my hands.

That was really freaky.

Most times I don’t think about my ‘lost’ childhood. But sometimes it rises to the front of my brain and I start worrying at it like a sore tooth. Should I get (even more) therapy? Should I try hypnosis to penetrate that blankness and retrieve my memories? So far my answer has been ‘No’. The memories I do have are not great (okay, awful) and frankly I’m not thrilled with retrieving any more.

But it’s a shame that the good had to disappear with the bad. What a kindness, to have taken the time to make and deliver those cards. It would be nice to have a memory like that to look back on.


How’s your memory? Or the memory of those closest to you? Any gaps, missing information, or times you don’t want to think about/they don’t want to talk about? What, if anything, have you done about it?

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