I’ll forego this little burst of creativity by explaining some context. At university, I have a unit called True Stories, and in this unit, we write– in various ways– our autobiography. When I started this unit, I had two thoughts:
- Oh, I remember everything, this should be a piece of cake.
- Oh God, what can I write about that’s not going to make me seem like my formative years were desperately sad and pitiful?
As the weeks rolled on, I eventually found a way around the second one. Because, for clarity’s sake, my childhood was really good– I had parents who loved me, a good education. If anything, I was a little bit spoilt as a child– a weekly Barbie from Woolworths is not the sign of a tragic past.
But it’s the atypical and sometimes darker moments from my origin story that seem to stick with me the most, and sometimes that’s what throws me when trying to find something to write about.
In hindsight, I’m lucky. With my memory, I’m often left thinking about the things in my past that never quite fit their way into a conversation. So writing about my childhood is cathartic, I can say the things I’ve been keeping to myself, without the desire for anyone to respond and make me talk further on the subject. It’s like therapy, only without the talking.
And this week, we had to go right back to where all our memories began. So, here I go;
My earliest childhood memory is of being set apart. I’m never sure if this memory is real or a particularly lucid dream because it features my Uncle Steven. We are at someone’s house, in someone’s garden, but the cousins from my mother’s side are there and not, oddly, the children of my paternal uncle and auntie.
The brilliant sunlight bounces off of Steven’s bald head and radiates mostly from his smile, shining brighter through the occasional gap where a tooth ought to be. He has my father’s mouth, or I suppose my father hs his. I remember this smile because I have never seen it or Steven since, except through home videos that were taped before I was even born. But in that moment, I can feel those thick fingers encircle my toddler’s body, I am two years old– all blonde hair, blue eyes, and squishy baby. He lifts me up and away from my sister, Elise, and Jordan and Sean. They are six, eight and seven, and in his eyes, far too boisterous to play with me.
The blinding white sunlight expands as the memory begins to end, like old fashioned film tape slowly curling and burning into ashes. The words Steven says are garbled and lost, but there is laughter in his faint cockney accent; but again, I have no idea whether this is really what he sounds like, or something I’ve invented to fill the void that comes from having barely any extended family.
I know that what Steven says to the trio of children– though not malicious– has come across as mean (though if you listen to my father’s recollection of his childhood, I could believe that meanness is in his nature) because there is then, suddenly, a sense of my mother in the memory. She is there, a fierce but kind den mother to her children and her blood nephew and niece.
But then the memory is gone.
It cuts out and I’m left wondering whether it was ever real at all.
I’ll probably never know.