The Tree Outside the Window

It’s funny how memories work. My emotional state seems to have more to do with triggering a memory than circumstances, though similar circumstances trigger similar emotional reactions. Eating a madeleine might trigger an involuntary memory, but so might feeling a particular blend of happiness.

Recently, I’ve been comforted by memories from childhood. They are there, ready to be remembered, which makes me think that my new apartment is as comforting as the childhood home I left almost ten years ago. In large part, this has to do with the tree outside my balcony.

Growing up, I would wake from my bed (or, on a school day, be woken by my mother) and open the curtains (or, for most of my childhood, blinds) and see a beautiful tree outside my double windows. Past the tree would be the yard, then the woods, and — past that — the field, which I stopped playing in around the time that I left childhood behind.

I see this tree reflected in the tree outside the balcony. Like the one that grew past my bedroom window, one might see a bird land on this one, or a squirrel scurry through its branches — though I have yet to see the latter.

Sunlight brings more memories.  Perhaps it has to do with the direction and height of the windows in my new place, or the way the light filters through the leaves. Whatever the cause, I’m reminded of sun streaming through autumnal leaves from decades ago, and the memories I made under them. And if I open the slider during a storm, I can hear the rain, which must be one of the most soothing sounds in the universe.

The tree outside my childhood home no longer exists. It lost its life for the sin of growing too close to the house, after a surprise October ice storm made my parents extra-cautious about anything that could fall on their home. I only have the memory of it, and the emotions from long ago reflected in the emotions of today, and that is enough.

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Milestones

In middle school or thereabouts, I began writing down “Dates to Remember,” which were dates when important events happened in my life, starting with my birth.  About a week ago, I read through these dates, which now cover over 9 lined pages.

Two things struck me as I read.  One was the type of events I thought important to remember.  The other was how long ago many of these events occurred, and how much has happened since.  Most of the dates cover 8th grade through college.  There are quite a few from when I was in Japan.  Many of the events not covered are in my diary entries, but important weddings, births, and deaths are listed, as are romantic milestones.

For example, I included when my pet hamster died and the first school dance I went to.  I have the date we picked up our dog, and the day we put our dog to sleep.  Lots of firsts, too.  Besides the first dance, there’s my first pep rally, first marching band competition, and first rejection letter from a girl (which I still have).  I have the date Dan Jansen finally won his gold medal, and the date Steven Spielberg finally won his Oscar (which I watched on my Game Gear TV from bed).  My first girlfriend, first date, first job, and first kiss are included, as are the day I learned how to tie a tie and the first time I swallowed a pill.

Some dates turned out not to be as significant as I thought they would be.  Meetings with people I never saw again, dates with girls I never dated again, important parties that are no longer important.  And there are some dates that happened later than expected, and some that have yet to happen.

And yet, as I looked through these dates, I felt overwhelmingly content.  No matter the reason for remembering them, they are all times when something significant happened.  They remind me of how much has happened in my life, and how much I have to look forward to.

My First Memory

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.

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.