S. stood silent on a Brooklyn playground while a boy, 7 or 8, said, “Say something!” He said it loud. To my protective-mother ears, he also said it in an insistent, incredulous tone—just at, but not over, the edge of mocking. S. didn’t say something. I think he was stilled by the sensory cacophony of the playground we were visiting, one that included hoops and a skate ramp. But more, with a speech delay, S. thinks hard before he speaks, partly because he wants to, and partly because he has to. And even more, he had never met this boy before. So he didn’t say something. Didn’t say anything at all. I moved him away from the boy.
On the way home, S. was pretty quiet. I wondered if he was reliving the moment (past), processing it (present), or rehearsing it for use as a learning experience (future). Would it become a link in the chain of childhood stories, or would it erode through natural neuroscientific processes? Maybe it had already slid away.
Those who know me and/or have read some of my work know that I do not remember my childhood, save for two tragic and formative events. Looking at S.’s childhood unfold hour by hour is like being hooked on a series of riveting fantasy novels. There are enough real-life details that root me in familiarity, but enough fantastical elements that make S.’s life seem strange and exciting. S. and his brothers might as well be Harry, Fern, and Charles Wallace.
My lack of childhood memory contributes to my love of creative nonfiction, particularly true stories of childhood. Two of my favorite journals just released great sets: Creative Nonfiction‘s new issue is full of writers who “recount formative childhood experiences that leave indelible memories.”
And Longridge Review‘s fourth issue continues the journal’s mission to showcase “revealing moments” of childhood through “essays that stretch beyond the clichés of childhood as simple, angelic, or easy.”
I’m a writer. I can’t help but begin essays on behalf of my children. I stood silent on a Brooklyn playground. But S., many years from now, will decide whether this childhood moment needs to be explored. So hard to keep my mouth shut and my pen quiet.