Sorry for being incommunicado this last month-and-a-half. Last month, I went to Japan for a couple of weeks to attend a wedding, and then had a visitor to attend to for five days. I had hoped to have my two posts on Japan written by now, but since I do not, I offer you this short piece on my first memory, which I hope will, someday, constitute the beginning of my memoirs.
A rocking horse. That is my first memory of the world.
There was nothing special about the rocking horse, other than its use as a children’s toy, nor the location where it was located, in the upstairs hallway. I remember the carpet was blue, and the horse slightly off-center from the top of the stairs. Of this last detail, however, I cannot be certain.
On its own, the image has no importance. What gives it importance are the circumstances which created it; namely, its being my first memory, the first thing I remember seeing in this world—even though, now, it exists only as a memory of a memory.
And perhaps it wasn’t my first memory. I remember my sister doing a silly dance while I was in my playpen in the dining room. How I laughed when she ran toward me, saying, “Ahhhh-diggity-diggity-diggity-diggity.” Or was it more of a “jiggity-jiggity-jiggity-jiggity?” No matter. What is important is that I know this to be a memory of the event, and not a memory of seeing the home movie years later, because our home movies have no sound.
Then there are memories that others have filled me in on. My mom going into labor in the waiting room at the hospital. The nurses rushing her down the hall and knocking over a pail of water (at least, I always imagined there being water inside). The doctor having only one glove on when I came out. How my parents worried because I didn’t cry at first, just looked around at my new surroundings. How the nurses said to my mother, “And here is your baby, Crash,” due to the pail being hit. Of the Chinese nurse who saw me and said, “Ah. He has a very noble face,” and then was never seen again.
All these memories, mine and others, make up the first days, months, and years of my life, for the facts of my early life exist between the photos and film that my parents took, and the documents that say I am their second child and first-born son. And yet, their significance is a result of what was deemed important at the time the impression was made. How come I can remember a wasp landing on my head in first grade more than I can remember my first day of school, or who was in my kindergarten class better than what I learned there? Details become significant based on how much importance we place on them at the time. The rocking horse memory is not significant to the rest of my life. And yet it is, because it marks the moment when I realized that I exist.