My first memories come in flashes. I remember the feeling of shag carpet under my feet. I remember my dog’s long ears resting on that shag carpet. I remember how warm the sun felt soaked into her black fur.
In my first memory it is night. I am in the back seat of a car. I remember the rain falling on the windshield. I remember how it distorted the light of the U-Haul sign. I know the sign said U-Haul because my mother told me so. I remember that was the night my sister was born.
I remember how the shape of those letters U H A U L made me remember the shapes of the letters on my blocks. I remembered it in a flash, the way I arranged the lettered blocks to spell words. I could spell any words. I could spell U-Haul if I wanted. But I know now that if I touched the letters on the U-Haul sign, they would feel nothing like the letters on my blocks. I remember the feeling of the raised wooden letters on my fingertips and sharply beneath my soft feet, in a flash.
I remember first words. I remember saying “Bob Vila” (of the home improvement show) before I learned “mom”.
I cannot touch the smooth wood of kitchen tables without remembering what shredded cheese tastes like out of a plastic bag, in a flash. I remember cold butter on wheat bread. I remember eating a whole loaf of gas station bread in the back seat of the car. It was raining. If I remember correctly it was a red car. I cannot remember where we were going but I remember that bread and I remember the wet plastic bag.
I remember my first swear word. It was “crap”. I remember saying it to my aunt out by our pool where I often ate bread and butter. I remember it was night and I remember how hot my face felt when she ran into the house to tell on me. I remember she often smelled like potatoes.
I remember whispering swear words to myself in the back yard until I had the courage to say them out loud.
I remember when Trix cereal was shaped like actual fruit and I remember when it suddenly was not. I remember feeling cheated. I remember hating the taste of peanut butter ice cream. I remember my sister always smelled like peanut butter, but I cannot remember her now without remembering the smell of maple syrup.
I remember a time when I was better at basketball. I remember shooting hoops with my sister, at night, in the driveway of our house. It was a brown house. I remember winters when the snow drifts were taller than me. I remember building an igloo with the girls across the street. I remember being told not to eat the yellow snow.
I remember smells. I remember the smell of stale coffee and warm dirt. I remember the smell of the earth after it rains. I do not know why it makes me sad.
I remember the smell of wax beans growing on a trellis at my great grandmother’s house. I remember the smell of old people, glossy magazine pages, rhubarb jam, and gingerbread cookies. I know exactly why that makes me sad.
I remember my first dog and I miss her when I remember to. I remember sad times and happy times. I remember her blood on the living room floor, but I also remember how her tail swung back and forth during hikes in the fall. I remember her tail and I remember her ears but I cannot remember her face.
I remember praying every night that dog years and human years please be made the same. I remember how I felt when that request didn’t happen. I remember I watched the Flintstones that night and felt utterly changed.
I remember bike rides on the bike trail, first pulled behind my mom in a baby jail and later noiselessly on training wheels.
I remembered, and then in a flash forgot what I was about to write.
Hostess cupcakes, I remember those too. I remember eating junk food and reading books at my grandma’s house. I remember when my sister couldn’t read. I remember when she could read her yellow Dick and Jane book once we moved to the new house. I cannot remember a time when I couldn’t read.
I remember a sign language chart posted on my bedroom door. I remember Hooked on Phonics and math worksheets and Leap Pad and a book shelf filled with big books. I remember writing my name in pink on my first library card. I remember exactly where that library card is, although I remember I erased the pink a couple years later to write my name neater with pencil. I wish I hadn’t done that, but it’s so long ago now and how can you possibly voice that small ache of regret for the past?
I remember dancing to the Grease soundtrack on that gray shag carpet. I remember watching Mr. Rogers but not Rugrats because it would make me stupid.
I remember, but I know the sum of my earliest memories condenses to less than a day. But I remember when days felt like forever and I remember being sad when my shadow stretched long on the driveway.
I do not remember what made these memories significant. Did I screw up my face and look extra hard? Did I take out my mental camera and click?
I remember things I do not want to forget. I remember things I wish I could forget.
What parts of my life now will I remember–in flashes–years from now when I am again changed?