I grew up with the distinct idea that I had very few memories of my childhood. Once in grade 5 I curled up quietly in our apartment’s sofa bed and let the tears quietly roll down my cheek because I had come to the deep understanding befitting for a 11 year old that the family road trip we had taken around the states since we moved to Canada was the one and only we will ever have.
I don’t know. That scared me.
I felt it such a waste, knowing that I had a very blessed childhood, but had such an effective block on it, it was always spottedly blank. Then last night at dinner I suddenly had the clarity to recall all those tiny details in flashing memories that made a by passed event so real. In retrospect, the way the memories surfaced were in the same way a child might continuously spin a kaleidoscope and watch the random patterns appear. And suddenly I was constantly retorting one event or another in between bites. I couldn’t help but have the need to say aloud what had happened before. Although the universe will never reverse or answer, and certainly my mother and sister do not recall much of what I spoke of; something about solidifying its existence into a statement gave me comfort.
Talking about the small details, I wonder if its just my writer/reader brain that’s over actively making up for the lack thereof. Was it just humorous trauma that made me remember the time my mother forced a young Duck to shower in her master’s bedroom in order to inspect that her behind was well cleaned. And then sent her back in because it was not up to par. Or that eventually she used a wet napkin, not only since my dad had once told me any normal dry tissue was not good enough for my mom, to make sure everything was spotless. Rather, is it normal for a 6 year old girl to remember the way her matching bed set with her sister could feel quilted and sort of rough? And that, rather than sleeping in that spacious but lonely bedroom, while my sister lived in Canada with my aunt, back in China I slept in the play room where the two mattresses were thrown together on the floor.
I talked to my mom about the multiple live in nannies we had. I originally brought it up to tell her how I took my first puff of smoke at 7, but we never got to that. Instead, I talked about how in my very sheltered and spoiled childhood, I had witnessed a different side of Shang Hai for the first time when I accompanied one my mother’s favorite house keeper’s to her own home. I pointed upwards towards a hung garbage bag and asked, “Is that for garbage? Why don’t you throw it out?”. And she had laughed kindly and told me that, no, it was her clothes, because not everyone can afford the space to have a closet.
On our way there, I was constantly battling car sickness and twisting my young brows, while her daughter of the same age stared at me blankly. This was probably the most luxurious thing she had ridden. The other was a pull cart most likely.
She had a blinking problem though, where she would blink too many times too harshly. I went and tried that out myself, but thought it was too much of a chore to keep up daily.
Thinking back, I wonder how these people felt taking care of me in that big house. In my short memories, they were all kind.
My mother and I laughed, talking about the time when our family decided to take a New Years trip together and my father got robbed eighteen hundred dollars from his fanny pack between an elderly couple. I still vaguely remember their faces. It was the first time the constant stream of people was abruptly disturbed and stopped from travelers getting their passports verified. I remember looking down from the elevator and there the man was hurriedly scuffling with his very own fanny pack. I hadn’t thought much of it though.
Then my mother was lounging naked in another city apartment, vexing about the issue at hand, while my father tried to calm her more than for his sake by saying, “Let it be, say it was a New Years bonus for the old couple.”
I spent many hours playing with my plastic make believe kitchen in that apartment. My sister and I shared a cramped room that I always recalled to be awashed with a transient dusk/dawn pale blue light. When I couldn’t find any memories of us being together in that apartment, I felt bad. But then memories told me that we were both young toddlers sitting crossed legged together in the middle of the living room. A blanket spread across beneath us for a bed, and a giant mouse stuffed animal for me and a big Pikachu one for her. We would watch a silly children show, (or was it a movie?), and she would promptly tell me to shut up if I imitated the main character’s distinctive and cruelly whiny laughter and soon impeding complaints into a full blown cry.
My mother laughed at that.
Apparently her and my father went out a lot in those times.
I didn’t feel sad knowing, knowing now that they had many more private memories than I’ll ever speak of now that he’s gone.
So since I had come to understanding that between my mother and sister, they tend to receive my tales of the days before as a sort of fictional childhood story, I felt even more the need to retain these precious thoughts. To say them aloud time and time again. To become the family’s memory keeper. It’s a bit lonely to relive the sensations alone, but I suppose I don’t mind. The idea is to some day pass on these colorful tales to a grandchild or another, and they will probably unknowingly adjust them and tell on. Like I am doing now.