Jun 05 2011
My memory was fractured in early childhood.
I have always been able to recall with great clarity the house and neighborhood in which I grew up. We moved in when I was four and live there until the summer after I turned seventeen. To this day I can close my eyes and take a detailed tour through our two-story home and up and down the street. However, until recently no people animated this inner playback. No parents, no siblings, no one –and our block was filled with children I played with as a child.
I still have no memory of grade-school teachers or classmates though I can easily visualize my school’s wooden structure, wide floors, even my kindergarten room at the end of the hall. I see it like walking in after everyone has been evacuated for a fire drill.
Our family lived in Switzerland for six months when I was nine. It was my father’s homeland. My aunt’s large chalet and the hamlet of Brienz remain vivid in my memory but, again, no people. I know we were greeted by many family members when we arrived, but what I actually recall are huge bowls of soup on a roughly hewn table –and later, curled wood shavings on the floor of the woodcarver’s shop downstairs.
I only start remembering people around the time my parents divorced when I was twelve.
All these years it has remained the same. At times I thought that if I just stopped trying I would start remembering, but it never happened. Then, a few weeks ago something wonderful occurred. While drifting off to sleep memories of my childhood home began to play across my mind –but something had changed.
Lying very still I whispered to myself, the children are back!
I could see their faces . . . I could remember their names . . . I relived activities. And as soon as I remembered it felt like I had never forgotten. I needed to reassure myself that my apparent ease in remembering did not make a lie out of the decades in which the children had gone missing.
Perhaps it was because a month earlier my brother and I spoke for the first time about what happened to me as a little girl, how my father molested me at a very young age. For years I thought this was most likely the case, but had no memory of it. I had virtually convinced myself it hadn’t happened, that I was only afraid that it had. Hearing it from my brother settled the issue forever.
My brother told me that my father often threatened to kill the family and flee to Switzerland. I was shocked to hear this. Later I remembered when I was around twenty I decided I would go to see my father who I hadn’t seen since the divorce. I drove to within a block of where he lived and parked, but began to cry hysterically and became so sick I couldn’t get out of the car. I was horrendously afraid if I went to his apartment he would kill me and no one would know what happened to me. Now for the first time in my life I understand why I was so terrified.
Two weeks after talking to my brother my neighborhood playmates returned to animate my memories. My father has been dead for many years and there are no longer any uneasy mysteries surrounding him.
All of us are safe.