I am looking at the blank page, feeling exhausted for no reason. Am I fighting a bug? I have learned not to berate myself when I feel this way, fatigue often the precursor to disease. It is too early to show symptoms of COVID-19 that may have been passed at a weekend wedding. No, I think it is an annoying mouth sore. Or dehydration. I didn’t feel the thirst to carry a water bottle with me everywhere in Chicago. In Arizona, thirst is persistent to the point that you don’t recognize it. I am refilling my cup once again.
I rack my brain for ideas. One writer (Marion Roach Smith?) suggests writing your earliest memory. I have long held that my earliest memory was the recognition of a sense of pride. The details of the action are hazy. The vignette has me being praised while delivering a bowl of cherries to my mother in the kitchen of our first home, having picked them from the trees in the yard with my dad and Big Bro. We moved out of that house when I was three, so any memories of that place are rare, sketchy, and, according to research, questionable. I “fact-checked” with my mom one time to learn that we did indeed have cherry trees. She also confirmed the lay-out of the kitchen. What I remember most, though, is the emotion and my awareness of the emotion.
Early memories may not be events but emotions, a feature which may also mark later memories. “Substantial evidence has established that emotional events are remembered more clearly, accurately and for longer periods of time than are neutral events.”* However, memory is tricky. Just ask your siblings to recall a family event and there will be as many versions as there are siblings. Eyewitness reports of crime are very unreliable as victims sift and sort material to make sense of it.
“Research suggests that, along with emotionality, the coherence of a memory contributes to its longevity in memory. The extent to which an experience is understood in a meaningful way affects the likelihood that it will be incorporated into the permanent repertoire of the events of our life.”#
It is possible that my earliest memory is one of pride/ego/pleasure. My mother’s praise evoked an emotion that, at three years of age, I understood to be positive and wanted to hold onto. It seems to be my first practice of self-awareness. How beautiful to learn so early that life is like a bowl of cherries before being challenged by the pits.