When I was two, I fell down the stairs and landed face down on the cement floor of the basement. I lost a front tooth. I screamed, cried, and carried on until dad picked me up and carried me back up stairs. I have flash memories of falling down the stairs, hitting the floor, dad carrying me back up holding me on his left side. What dad was wearing is also part of that memory.
It is the only memory I have of that age.
I’ve questioned why I have that memory, how I can have it. Is it because it was an oft-repeated story? Or, is it a real memory? After asking mom questions of the things I remember that weren’t part of the narrative, things she confirmed, I believe it is real, I can see it happen, like watching a fragmented movie in my head. Other parts I gained from the narrative, my age, the day of the week, what I was doing when I fell.
My next memory I have is while we were on vacation, when I had the fingers on my right hand crushed in the hinge side of the station wagon door. I can watch it unfold in my head, my hand following the side of the car from the front, my fingers going between the door and the car, the door being closed and my fingers stuck in the jam. I can see what happened after, I can hear myself screaming, feel the pain. I can hear the panic and the anger from dad that it was happening, that it happened. I was four-years-old, it was also an oft-repeated story, told from the adult side of the story, yet I see the story unfold in my mind from my eyes, a more complete memory than the first, longer in duration.
That is the only vivid memory I have of that age. I have flashes of other memories but I can’t hold on or expand them into any specific place, event, let alone watch it like a movie in my head.
Again, I’ve questioned whether it was a real memory, or a created memory from the story being told. I think it is real, I can feel the excruciating pain when the door closed, the interminable time before the door was opened removing the crushing pressure, the different pain that caused. I can remember dad fixing my hand in the motel room they hurriedly got instead of camping. How gently he tried to be fixing each finger, while I was crying from how much it hurt for him to fix my little crushed fingers. I remember the feeling of his anger come off him in waves that this could happen to his little girl. The throbbing pain throughout the night keeping me awake, crying, crying out. I know I was four based on the year we went on that vacation, not because I remembered my age.
But yet, I still questioned whether they were real memories, even after believing they are true memories, questioning how you remember something that happened so young, but not have other memories. Last week I read the article below and it made sense. It’s the trauma that makes it different from other memories our minds discarded combined with the narrative being part of the conversation on a regular basis and the mode of storytelling. I also think it matters that the narrative included dad rescuing me if you will, a repeated pattern that was set when I came home, he was the only one who could calm me, not just momentarily pacify me, he could calm me so I stopped crying.
I’ve read many stories written by adoptees about remembering their feelings, past events. Memories that based on the age when they came home, or before they did, that shouldn’t exist. I know people dismiss them as making it up. Perhaps it’s not far-fetched, perhaps it’s time to start believing them.