Fifteen and Free

Whoa. I thought I had a handle on “the story” of my childhood memory loss. I knew well (too well) my only two memories from my life until I was nearly twelve years old. I recalled well most of junior high school, so my “life narrative” really began then. I knew at what point I realized I’d lost the rest, that at seventeen I started to note how I couldn’t remember too far back. That last part…that’s the whoa.

The recent cleaning-out of my desk led to a cleaning-out of my file boxes, including school papers from elementary school through college. I did sift through these files when researching and writing my book, but somehow missed one bit.

Fifteen years old, sophomore year of high school, English class. Our journals were intended for literature responses, and most of my entries, though elaborately doodled, stayed true to that intent. Good student, me! Maybe that’s why I dismissed the journal when I first looked through these files for references to memory. Early in the year (September-early) I wrote this entry, responding to who knows what piece of literature:

9-23-92

We are supposed to reflect on what has happened. I was indeed once betrayed. I think. Actually, I don’t remember any of it. I really don’t remember anything from my past. Maybe I have amnesia. I dunno, I’ve had so very many fabulous things happen to me, along with many terrible things happen too. But I don’t recall any of them. Oh well—no big loss!

* Until now, I firmly believed my first hard evidence of childhood memory loss was a diary entry at seventeen years old. I thought that the extraordinary trip that is high school might have contributed to my losing the past, particularly since I split off from the public school system I’d been in from the beginning, and all my old classmates and friends, and attended a Catholic school. But no…two full years before that I already knew of the vacuum. At fifteen, I could not recall the past before twelve. What was that like? Did I feel very young or strange?

* Though I’ve made a point of declaring I am not an amnesiac and that my memory loss has never been incapacitating, at fifteen I easily used “amnesia” as my go-to word. I wonder how long that lasted. I wonder if I try too hard now to avoid the term.

* Those words: “no big loss!” Memory, history, roots: not at all important to me then. What was important to me at fifteen? Freedom? Malleability? Exploration? No big loss indeed. Without a tether to my past, I was not only content, I was perhaps delighted. Adolescent reinvention was more than an act of will. It was the only act.

Me, at fifteen, ready for Homecoming, wearing a dress likely worn by all three of my older sisters, not caring that I couldn’t remember most of my life.