On Facebook, my friend David has been thinking about blinks. He posted a brief little meditation about it a few days ago, & this morning a wonderful short poem called “Blinking” that I wish I could post here but I haven’t asked him so I won’t. 😉 But his poem led me to dig up a nonfiction piece I wrote many years ago, 1994, in an undergrad nonfiction workshop taught by Gretchen Legler at University of Alaska Anchorage. It’s about memory.
At the time of writing, my partner Rozz and I were early in our relationship, & had lived for about a year together in a small rented house in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage — the first place we shared. My mom was still alive, & my parents still lived in the same house in Columbia Falls, Montana where I grew up. I still had my cats Lemminkäinen (Lem for short) & Eight Lives, & Rozz still had her dog Whylie. A lot has changed since then. Which makes the blinks described here, both of 1962 (or whenever) & 1994, all the more precious.
I lie in a bed, warm. It’s my parents’ bed. I lie on my left side with my back to whoever lies in the bed with me. It might be my mom, or maybe it’s my dad. Maybe it’s both. But I can’t see them because they are behind me. The room is dark, but the door is open and light spills in from the next room. I hear voices from the next room, and feet, stamping. It’s my brothers, getting ready for school. Outside, I know, it’s raining.
This is my first memory, lying in my parents’ bed, warm, aware of other people’s presence — the weight of my mother or father behind me on the mattress, my brother’s voices — but seeing no one, seeing nothing but the dark room and the light coming from the next room. It’s as though I blinked into existence merely to collect this memory, and blinked out again once I’d retrieved it.
But I blink in equipped with some knowledge, for while there’s a lot I don’t know, there are some things I do. That I have brothers, for instance. I don’t see them, and while I hear their voices, they are blurry, indistinct, unsexed. I don’t know their names. But I know it’s them and I know they’re getting ready for school.
What is school? In my memory it’s merely a word to describe a place they go when they’re not here, where I am. And where is that? In my parents’ bed, but I’m not sure which house. I want to say it’s the big two-story house where my parents still live, but that may be only because it’s the only house I remember in detail. But my parents have told me we lived in a different house for the first few years after I was born, so it could be my first memory takes place in a room of that house. But they’ve pointed that house out to me — I’m certain it had only one floor. Yet I can’t hear the rain — surely in a one-story house I would hear the rain hitting the roof. So I must be in the big house, I must be in my parent’s bedroom where I slept in a crib till I was five, because there weren’t enough bedrooms to go around, because my dad hadn’t yet built the bedrooms in the attic.
But why am I in my parent’s bed, not in my crib? Maybe I was crying in my sleep and Mom or Dad came and got me to comfort me, and my blinking into this scene was my waking up. But no, there’s no sense of sadness or discomfort as I lie there, nothing to indicate I was, or had been, distressed. Maybe one of my parents got me up for the day, brought me out of the bedroom for breakfast, or to the bathroom — surely I’m out of diapers by now — and when I got done, I found my other parent still in bed and jumped in, wanting to cuddle. Yes — and that would explain how I know it’s raining — I’ve been about in the house, I’ve seen the rain out the window.
I feel like a detective. Why am I aware of my brothers and not my sister? She was born before me — she must be around somewhere. In my early childhood she and my brothers shared the bedroom next to our parents’ room. She slept in an old-fashioned trundle bed, a little bed on casters that was rolled under my brothers’ bunk beds during the day. Maybe I’m not aware of her because she’s not getting ready for school. Maybe she doesn’t go to school yet. And if that’s so . . . I can learn how old I am. Mer is just a year younger than Mark, so if he’s going to school and she isn’t, he must be in first grade. That would make him 6 years old, and Mer 5. Dave would be 10. And I would be 3. It would be 1962, a rainy fall day, far away in Montana where my parents still live, in the house they still live in, in the room that long ago, after Dad built the upstairs bedrooms, turned into the “sewing” room, then the “utility” room, then finally — more honestly — the “junk” room.
But in 1962 it was the bedroom, my parents’ and mine, and I lie on my left side seeing the dark of the room and the light of the next room and hearing the voices and feeling . . . how? Not distressed, that’s been established. But I don’t feel ecstatic, either, not transcendent or joyful or anything one would consider so remarkable as to pop me into existence to experience that moment. I just feel . . . okay. Warm. Comfortable. Dry. Secure. Like so many moments of my life it’s a moment I imagine someone outside myself would find endlessly dull and prosaic, but to me it’s fascinating, something I return to.
As I will return to this morning. Rozz has already gotten up, gotten dressed, made breakfast, made lunch, and written some in her journal. Now she comes in to snuggle with me for a few minutes where I lie on my right side, facing toward the window with its venetian blinds, my right hand tucked under Lem’s warm purring belly. My other boy, Eight Lives, regard me with benevolence from atop my left shoulder. Probably he’s purring, too. Rozz is behind me, her left arm thrown over my waist, her breath in my hair. Whylie, her dog, is probably behind her somewhere, on the other side of the bed.
I know it’s raining outside because I can hear it — we live in a one-story house. I feel wonderful and lazy, except I know in a minute Rozz will tell me what time it is. Then she’ll get up and take Whylie out for a quick walk, and I’ll have to get up and get dressed and put on my shoes and wash my hair and comb it and be ready, by the time Rozz gets back with Whylie, to drive us both to work. I’m not so lucky as the little girl of 32 years ago, who gets to lay about warm and sleepy while others go out to the work of the world. But until it blinks out, there is this moment.
[October 6, 1994]