I remember very clearly when my brother was born. I was three years old at the time. Although as young as I was, his birth is not my first memory. My first memory is from when I was one, and my poor-helpful self tried to assist my mother in the kitchen by reaching up and grabbing a steaming bowl of soup from the cupboard and attempted to place it on the table. I then went on to drop the bowl and stabbed my finger with a long piercing glass. The memory scene fades after that and is replaced by the feeling of a hoarse throat as I attempted to scream my guts out, a green door, and clinking of keys hovering on top of my head as I lay on my back in a strange room and a face covered by a mask looked on at me. The scar on my left pinky still lives to this day – a constant reminder of my heroics.
No, my brother’s birth is not my first memory. It is my second, although I do not remember his birth at all. I wasn’t there. It is the events leading to his birth that I retain vividly. A series of very dramatic scenes, like four dimensional images from a movie I watched years ago.
I remember a feeling of abandonment deep in my gut and a maddening, persisting itching all over my belly.
I had the measles and I was left at my grandma’s while my mother was busy having my brother. In my memory, this happened over the span of a week; they in fact lasted a whole month, as I later discovered. And for a whole month my grandmother persistently attempted to keep the sight of my mother away from my hungry eyes, valiantly avoiding the tantrum that would inevitably occur if I saw my unreachable mother at that tender age. This was no easy feat since Gran lived precisely six doors away from my mother. And still does. I remember clearly standing forlornly on the balcony whimpering silently craving mummy – a lost Juliet missing her Romeo, albeit completely unrelated romantic feelings.
I only found out later how this was accomplished. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had been back from the hospital after the first week; healthy baby delivered, mother safe and sound. Back at home life continued with the new baby in the house, old sick baby exiled with the grandmother where the germs could be kept safely away. My mother would call her mother every time she had to leave the house, to go shopping for groceries, or go to church.
I did see my father during this interlude, I remember him as an elusive tall, dark shape.
So in the weeks before I first met my brother I was recovering at Gran’s from the measles while my parents cooed and crooned over the new addition. The memories that remain are vivid, seared in my brain like the memory from my terrifying first dentist appointment when I was six, and the memory from my first surgery when I was thirteen.
Most vivid image from the time I was marooned at grandma’s is one incident at bath time. Grandma was old-fashioned, or too old to remember, but she had no notion that a child might feel the same embarrassment as an adult would when all its dignity is exposed for all the world to see. So at three, she bathed me in an open tub on the kitchen table. I remember the sudden apprehension that rose within me as I heard footsteps on the stairs as one of my uncles ascended from the bakery downstairs. My uncle appeared. Today I forget who it was. Three uncles worked at the bakery back then, so it could have been anyone of them. But for the purposes of this narrative I will go on a whim and say that it was Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe climbed the stairs from the bakery downstairs and entered the kitchen unbridled. He walked in and I tried desperately to hide myself. Gran chided me “Stop fidgeting, there’s nothing down there he’s never seen before!” I remember gratitude as my uncle made a show of covering his eyes while blindly searching for the milk carton in the fridge, all for my benefit. I remember looking at his clothes covered in flour, mixed with the sweat forming dough stuck to his filthy shirt. The sweat though smelled like warm bread.
It is incredible how smells remain in one’s head.
I remember, both Uncle Joe and Uncle Charlie during their lunch hour. A warm meal cooked by their mother waiting on the table. One uncle or the other leaning on the kitchen cupboard whispering incoherently through the only phone in the house, lost in loving conversations with their girlfriends, now their wives. I also recall the nauseating smell of their cologne, wafting behind them, lingering in the air long minutes after they left to pick up their girl in their dingy, old cars.
It is the whiff of the calamine lotion that remains imprinted on the inside walls of my nostrils though, along with the soothing motion of my grandma’s hands massaging the cold relieving liquid into the burning skin all over my abdomen. I remember the measles forming scabs, and each scab that formed, the jittery morbid excitement deep in my gut as I peeled it off whole, a cake made of dead white skin mingled with the dried lotion.
When the last scab was done away with the next thing I remember was arriving home.
It is strange that as hard as I had painfully pined for my mother throughout this interval I cannot, for the life of me, remember her face. But she was there and she hoisted me up and allowed me to peer over a cot.
I remember a fat white baby sleeping. That image is still clear and vivid and now, in the full knowledge of my wise adulthood, it is very obvious to me that that fat boy in no way looked like a newborn, but I knew nothing back then and I swallowed the lie whole.
So I remember the fat baby sleeping harmlessly, his cheeks puffy, his arms thick, loops upon round loops of fat encircling his chubby arms.
I remember my mother’s voice saying very gently “That’s David, your brother.”
And I remember a deep, burning affection rushing up through my belly and clutching at my throat threatening to choke me.
Today I have responded to the Daily Post weekend challenge:
What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.
To respond to the challenge and/or read other responses, click this link: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/daily-prompt-childhood-revisited/