“No, Myndi. That never happened.”
I heard this phrase a lot growing up. It was usually my mom speaking it, in response to some memory I was relaying to any relative, friend, or random poor soul
that I’d cornered with a willing ear. My folks used to like to say I never met a stranger. I think it was just a nice way of saying that I never shut the hell up.
The problem with my memories as a kid was that they always included some kind of unreality. Like the time I encountered a unicorn grazing with the cattle in the pasture behind our house. Or the time I saved the day by rounding up a wayward calf on the back of our Doberman (her name was Matilda’s Boot, she was real, and she was awesome). Or the time at the zoo when I picked up a still-lit-but-mostly-smoked cigarette off the ground and gave it to a monkey to smoke…because he told me to.
The thing about these childhood memories is this: I know they’re not real. My grown-up brain tells me that in no uncertain terms. But they’re still so freaking vivid. Vivid like how the sky is blue and you know it’s blue because there’s no possible way that it could possibly be any other color than BLUE. Vivid like the smell of Little Miss Took after her bath – all warm and sweet and impossibly PURE. Vivid like Ginny Sue’s fur as she sleeps under my feet while I’m writing – coarse and soft all at once, and a little oily. Unquestionably DOGLIKE.
All those things are real, and vivid, and true. Just like my impossible childhood memories.
Except, a thing can’t be impossible and true at the same time. Can it?
These days the hat I wear most often – and most proudly – is that of Mama Supreme. The thing a much younger Myndi once swore she’d never do, that she’d never want to do, is now the thing I do with the greatest amount of relish. Being a mom, simply put, rocks. Rocks so hard my muthatruckin’ socks have flat-out disappeared.
But now I catch myself saying things like, “WillyJ, that never happened,” or, “VV Mike, there’s no possible way you could remember that,” because whatever story my endlessly charming and unquestionably brilliant offspring are telling the checker at Target (or the mailman or The Guy Who Stopped By To Give Us An Estimate On Our Roof) simply isn’t true. Can’t be true. Believe me, I’d remember if it were.
…or would I?
Sometimes their stories are bits and pieces of life actually lived. Example: WillyJ knows we lived in Hawaii for a spell, but he was too young (about two years-old when we got there) to really remember it. He swears, though, that he does. His memories usually sound something like this:
“Remember when we were at the beach and there was this giant tsunami and the water went away and came back and almost got us but we drove away really fast and VV Mike ate a giant snail and I cried ’cause it was my friend and then a lady yelled at you ’cause you were wearing white and a thunderstorm was coming and you took us to see it and the wind knocked me over and we almost got hit by lightning?”
Let me ferret out the truth here. (1) If you live in Hawaii, you go to the beach. (2) We lived in Hawaii when the tsunami hit Sumatra. It did not, however, hit Hawaii. (3) When we’d go to our favorite tide-pool at low tide, WillyJ’s little bro would eat snails. BABY snails. I never saw a giant snail in our two years there. Maybe he just ate them before I ever got the chance. (This, by the way, was a seriously disgusting habit. Imagine the cutest one-year-old boy on the planet, mouth black with snail-stuff, dribbling it down his chest, grinning at you like he’d just won the escargot lottery. I won’t even try to describe what the subsequent diapers were like.) (4) Thunderstorms were such a rarity there, that we’d always go out to watch – oftentimes to the shouts of “Lolo wahine, take the keiki home!” I can’t, however, think of any occasion where I was yelled at for wearing white.
So, his suppossed memories are close to the truth…but not quite there.
His little brother’s memories are a different story.
Lately, VV Mike’s been telling this story: “One time, at the zoo, I fell in with the alligators and they almost ate me.” He wholeheartedly believes this happened – so much so that when we recently made a trip to the Omaha zoo (the place where he believes this near miss to have happened) he experienced an impressive amount of anxiety about it happening again.
We did our best to assure him that (a) it never happened, and (b) it never would, but the memory is VIVID. Relentless. We came out of the nocturnal exhibit (where the alligators are) with one white-faced, shaking child.
See, to him, that near-miss with those toothy, hungry critters is real in his head. Just like WillyJ is sure his one-year-old brother once ate a giant snail. Just like a six-year-old Myndi would swear she rubbed a unicorn’s nose while playing in the back pasture. Thirty-three year-old me knows it didn’t happen, but six-year-old Myndi is still trying to claw her way to the front of my brain insisting that it did.
I don’t really know where I was going with this post, other than wondering about childhood and perception and memories. Do we drain the color and wonder out of the world around us as we age? Or are we so naive and wide-eyed as kids that anything is possible and everything is fantastic…and maybe blown way out of proportion?
It’d be really, really cool if it turned out that unicorn was real, though.