At just 4 years old, my aunt nearly let me drown in a pool roughly the size of the Sahara desert. I was surrounded by nothingness, no one, explosions, heat, and quicksand that took the unwieldy riveting shape of chlorined water. I was sucked straight to the center of the earth and pulled out with only seconds to spare.
Years later, my aunt would defend herself– explaining that I was in a hot tub when my arm floaties popped from the heat, and that I barely went under for a moment.
I tend to remember things from the perspective of the moment, though the clarity lessens as my memories age.
Still, filters and wrinkles aside, I can recount to you every little step of my life.
I learned how unusual my memory was only a few days after turning 17 years old. I was cross-legged on the floor of what would become my favorite classroom– barefoot, save for the post-it-note shoes I had created to prove a point. My teacher was arguing with me, leaning over his podium with the cool lazy arrogance of a modern-day Attila the Hun. Gossip around my new high school said he was the most difficult teacher to have, but I knew immediately after meeting him that he would be my favorite.
A girl sauntered over and argued on my behalf. I was wearing sticky notes on my feet, she announced, and so everyone else and their arguments were invalid.
I was smaller, both in size and essence, standing beside a robust Viking queen and an aging rebel– but felt right at home. I’ve always been surrounded by giants. One conversation led to another and we opened up an encyclopedia to learn all about how memories are formed and why most people can’t hold onto them.
A week later, that girl would be my best friend.
Two weeks later, we’d ditch the first class of our lives to hide in the classroom of our Hun leader– huddled together in tears behind his podium as we watched fellow Americans being carried out of the fiery pile of rubble that had been called the Twin Towers only hours before.
I was small, both in size in essence, and none of my giants could change what happened. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so small in my entire life– not even when I was drowning in the Sahara.
There were conspiracy theories, so silly that I am sure everyone prefers to forget them. There was tangible anger and suffocating fear. Our emotional high turned us all into bizarro Cookie Monsters, chomping down on a platter of the brittle cookies of hate. No one could speak or cry without dropping crumbs everywhere.
We were next. No one liked us. We were no longer safe.
Nothing was the same. We were haunted, but we tried to smile. The adults in our life spewed platitudes and lies at us like we were children– which now, of course, I see that we were.
My teacher walked us to my locker. It was smashed, with terrible words written across it. I could tell he wasn’t surprised, but the truth of it hit me slowly.
Of course. The new girl. The brown girl. The non-Christian. The anger and its brittle crumbs scattered all over the world. You couldn’t take a breath without inhaling someone’s exhaled rage and the crumbled remains of their broken-hearted humanity.
My giants were silent as they watched me for reactions.
I reached in and grabbed my books and whatever personal items hadn’t been violated. The books were heavy and comforting. I wanted to hug them and instinctively pressed them against the side of my face, only realizing as I was doing it how it must look as if I was listening to them.
My friend snickered for the first time all day, and cut through the tension with rapier wit and sheer strength of will. “So, Rara, what’d they say?”
I answered her with a smile, “They said, ‘I think we’re going to be okay.'”
“That’s knowledge for you,” my teacher cut in, “Always saying the same ol’ thing, and always being right.”
This was a freestyle memory written in 10 minutes for the Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge. I really didn’t know what I was going to write about, only that it had to start with the idea “I remember”. There’s a hundred ways to tell this story and I’m positive I wouldn’t have told it this way if I sat down specifically to write about that day– but that’s freestyle for you. It went through 30 minutes of editing, in 3 ten minute segments, as suggested (somewhat). It was nice to do so much editing, since I don’t normally, but it makes me judge the writing more.
How many revisions do you normally do, or how long do you spend on editing? Do you have memories from the perspective of your age at the time, or the perspective of hindsight? How much of your life do you remember?