I have two memories from when I was very young. One I’m almost positive is real and as correct as the memories of an almost two year old can be. I only feel that strongly in my conviction because my mother listened in amazement as I recounted details of her and I creeping into the kitchen of the house I only lived in until I was two. I can remember the structure, color and set up of that house while few photos of it exist, especially of the interior. I remember how the kitchen looked, lit by the cold light of the refrigerator as my mum and I conspired to eat a piece of birthday cake I’d bought home from a party that day before my dad, a compulsive midnight snacker, got to it first.
Why I remember that so distinctly, I’m not sure. Quite possibly the effect of that blue light haloing from the open fridge door, changing a kitchen I saw every day into an entirely different place. In the mind of a not quite two year old, that’s magic.
The other very early memory I think I have is of watching Humphrey B. Bear with my grandfather. If it is genuine, it must be from around the same period of time… he died just before I turned two.
Sadly, as much as I wish it were accurate, I don’t think it is. It’s too hazy, changes too often… it’s the manifestation of facts I’ve been given and photos I’ve seen.
That’s what our mind does. It’s this incredibly complex tangling of pathways we don’t even understand. Our brains have a tendency to take facts we know and couple them with images or sounds or smells that we are familiar enough with to recreate in our imagination. Stir, shake, push to the extremities of your nuerons… and out pops a memory. One so vivid and real and true that it seems as solid as what’s happening right now.
But memory is such a goddamn subjective thing.
I happened to be discussing the Port Arthur massacre with my friend The Doc a few days ago. We argued vehemently as to whether video footage of exists Martin Bryant, gun in hand as he prowls the grounds of the tourist attraction.
The Doc was certain that not only had it existed, he had seen it. He could describe it for me.
No such footage exists, nor has it ever. It’s a memory The Doc’s mind has created for itself, pieced together from massive amounts of media coverage of an event that occurred over fifteen years ago. But he believed it so passionately and was so positive he had seen it, I have no doubt that he would have been able to pass a lie detector test without the slightest hitch of the needle.
Memory experts describe memories as being like a coin on the bottom of a pool. You can see it, if the water’s clear enough. You know it’s there. But it’s obscured, changed and distorted, depending on the water level and clarity. Depending on the time passed, development gained, trauma, distance and so forth; memories become skewed in the same way. (“He was a giant…”)
I had made the naive assumption that my son’s memories of his father would stay preserved and intact, as they were in the months after he died. That the things he would forget would be things I didn’t know he thought about in the first place. That the memories we had shared and discussed between the two of us would be solidified in our common consciousness of them.
Of course I was wrong. Aren’t I always?
There’s a song that features on the Australian TV show PlaySchool on a semi–regular basis called the Dino Stomp. Once on a time it was the soundtrack to my son’s favorite PlaySchool DVD, played on high rotation whenever he managed to con us into turning the TV on. Around the time Tony and I got married, that DVD was still going strong.
Tony and I honeymooned in Port Macquarie (of all places… I’m not sure why, either), and we took our then eighteen month old Chop with us. We listened to that bloody DVD a hundred times over the three days we were away. And we danced the Dino Stomp over and over.
I think the last time I remember doing it was in the lounge room of the Purple House. I can still see Tony and his son laughing, performing all the actions, while I mimicked them with a tiny six month old Bump in my arms.
All of us were laughing.
It was like heaven.