Memoir Chapter 1
Updated: Feb 17
"Who I am Hates Who I've Been."
And in the end, I know I won’t remember anything, because that’s how it began, and how it was always meant to be. My memory escapes me now just as it always has seemed to. Dates and events seem to blend together; I can’t ever put my finger on it—why. I blame pot. Alcohol. I’m sure these things don’t help, but I remember when I first stopped being able to remember. I couldn’t remember life before two at about five, and then around 10, the memory of five became more recollection...
Surprisingly academically inclined, remembering challenged me often and hard. Bible verses recited, rewarded with colorful paper bills to spend at “auctions,” with hauls of scooters and sports equipment, toys and activities kids used to drool over... the struggle. (This pressure from the Christian half of me I’ll save for another space, as it itself rang clearer to my ears, shone brighter in my vision throughout nearly all my life, earning its own reflection as a whole.) I needed so many cheats fed through whispering lips or one-word hints to make do/sort-out word order of syllables we’d barely heard in modern society.
Never could seem to keep my head on straight. This from third grade through ninth or so, before I quit youth group for working at the mall, I guess; I can’t really remember—why. The spelling tests I never could master, because “sounding it out” wasn’t sensical with Philly accents and I just couldn’t recall...
One particular school assembly when the entire building packed into the gymnasium/auditorium/lunchroom combo, and Sarah White and I were each selected from our respective kindergarten classes to spell a word into the microphone, for each student to hear and, what, applaud? I’m not sure—why. To single out the smart kid in every classroom, perhaps, to ripen them for the bullies? Not that I was smart, just talkative and eager to please, or maybe had young parents who were kinda poor, and everyone (adult) felt sorry... Or because I was obedient and mostly well-behaved, and followed direction and instruction well, or came off as confident—who cares.
Because in any matter, it wasn’t that I was “smart,” for see, Sarah White was handed the microphone to spell “a-c-t-i-v-i-t-i-e-s.” I can piece together standing in front of our teachers, Ms. Linder repeating to Sara (just now realizing I can’t remember if she had an “h” on the end of it. Maybe Sarah Chidzik could tell you. It seems like something someone who shares names with someone would know, and I know she knew her then, unless of course she forgets, too, and I’d never blame her), and I the two different word options, and Mrs. Stearns testing our ability to recite the letters in correct order, clearly and slowly enough to be understood over the crackling audio system, pumped out from high in the multipurpose room in ‘97 or ‘98.
This final practice, I choked on “a-c-t-i-v-i-t-i-e-s.” I could get through “v” before wincing up at them. I’d known for a week and practiced with my dad—I’d read his twinge of disappointment when I broke the news, head hanging, the word I’d spell in front of the whole school, his “smart” little girl, so small in frame, staring out with vision cloudy from the stress of this public speech, bordering on blacking out—stress from what I now realize to be anxiety (ever-present as my deteriorating memory, feeding on every change, or event, or basically situation in general, masked by confusion and doubt, gnawing away at future me, so big), infuriation of the pathetic letters I’d muster... “F-U-N. Fun.”
And it was done. I sat back down (“Indian Style,” they called it then, now replaced with “criss-cross-applesauce,” for the sake of “duh” and “thank fucking god"), opening the floodgates to self-criticism and doubt and shame, all that monster’s gritty leftovers. Maybe five, maybe six, the memory more now a recollection, only because of its link to shame, the monster chipping away at my good remembrance for relying so heavily on embarrassment to fill its stomach. Cassie Clarhaut was “bright,” a “smart” kindergartener, they’d repeat. Sara White? Brilliant, a genius, I’d resolved. She’d moved away not long after. I was a little shell, just getting bigger. But that was only spelling. I never could remember. Then again, you should try to sound it out, but how can you with so many accents, a Philly strong and proud family, where do you even begin? And where do you go from there?
I never can seem to keep my head on straight. I know they say I’m the girl that has it all together, “bright,” but do they really think that? They couldn’t possibly think that. I faked it ‘til I made it and now I can’t keep my head on straight. I worked hard, I strove for excellence... but without being self-deprecating, I’m feeling just above average. Somewhere, in the middle of it all, I forget the “gifted label.” Abandoning all faith, a mildly interesting girl (relatively, depending) from a lower-middle class town, not living up to imagined Irish Catholic, Philly strong and proud expectations, now lowered, now confused by… But were we not all always confused? How “F-U-N.”
I can hear them all screaming downstairs as I write, quite literally, and it reminds me of how she said I was so angry and couldn’t communicate (in different words, perhaps, but I knew what was meant, even then, because I knew how I felt, I think I remember), and I’d blame my Philly strong and proud family, “that’s the passive aggressive way,” of the Irish Catholic, trying to explain “that’s how my family talks to each other. We yell. Better than keeping it all bottled-up.”
But that’s not the way of someone at peace. I know that now. So I avoid them up at the end of the upstairs hallway in my room, overwhelmed and all alone, craving connection and simultaneously fearing it, that I’ll be left yet again and older, oh so much older than barely 27. Disgusting. All of it, but mostly how much I forget...
I don’t want to go back and relive it all. I’ve always been the type of girl who hates re-watching movies, re-reading books. I’ve tried to duplicate experiences, but the second-go-round is never the same, and I almost prefer it that way. The nostalgia hits home, though. It’s one of my favorite feelings and I always welcome it’s creep, though I may put too much pressure on it, causing it to shirk back like a fearful kitten in its retreat. I call it back out, forward toward the opening from under the bed, “Aw come here, it’s okay, I won’t hurt you,” but the monster scares it off, and gone again is the sweet connection with my younger-self.
Though my memory alludes me, popping in and out of accordion shoji screens that have become my brain are recollections of tucking my body into an outside alcove of elementary school to shield my too-cold-bones from wind. I don’t know why I couldn’t handle the chill, while others climbed onto swings and lined up for kickball. I didn’t want to be alone (or rather, I don’t remember wanting to be alone), and occasionally a pal would join me in my corner hides, but usually I was. Recess was met with dread on those cold days; I’d listen to my cassette walkman play radio hits I’d recorded on tape at home with my boombox, shivering, shrouded by dead leaves I’d let bury me as a blanket. I think I was mostly cold, perhaps a little sad, but partially I knew I didn’t belong, be it the young, poor parents, or the label of “gifted” I’d come to revel in and laude over my peers; I didn’t fit in, and I didn’t want to. Deep down I think I knew myself, me past and future, me gay and straight, me abuser and abused. I fucking hated kickball, and still do.
Shamelessly present, I don’t even know who I am anymore. Some things you should keep for your self in the case some day there’s no one left, or maybe I should, just me, shattering the thought along with ice cemented dead leaves on pavement underfoot, beneath a moon four days shy it’s roundest. Shameless, presently, walking a dog for cash to pay for a car maybe I should never have purchased. Dipping in and out of bible verses and spelling tests and recess and Sara White premiering as film negative projector slides for slits squinting, wincing, with embarrassment. Just little glimpses of what my world was, so similar to what it is now, confused and dark, but happier than I’d thought I’d be, way happier than I’ve been... Love and acceptance concealing shame of knocking her tooth out, ramping the aggression from “Irish Catholic” to full-on alcoholic, shrouded and muted by the shame of “F-U-N. Fun.” How did I take it so far? Remind me, again?
Trace the map of my childhood to piece together becoming a shell of myself, what I think I remember, slowly chipping away at the me that was allegedly uncool, trying to fit in... Starting with “F-U-N” and on to the mockery I made of myself, faking real brains from behind the label, “gifted,” and the Irish Catholic seriousness in work ethic, all simply the precursors to the lasting torture I don’t know I’ll ever forget.
I think I recall being a skinny kid, less from memory and more from photo evidence, anyway, but always “growing,” my family’d note, and always gaining toward the future pudgy middle schooler. The first time a boy called me a "whale" in 5th or 6th grade, perhaps in-between, and then hating myself for not looking the way others did in the same Hollister sweatpants and American Eagle jeans, having to figure out how to “dress for my body type,” and resisting coving my belly with a tankini for as long as my size (or my family’s judgement of it), would allow. Gaining toward high school, a then-friend sharing that a boy I’d broke things off with uttered, “she should cut her stomach off;” hearing how “big” my butt was; listening while all the girls compared, “well you’re broad-shouldered like me...” They couldn’t possibly think that… All the while self-sabotaging to cope, feeding the brewing monster’s growth with my own lack of control, sizing-up and up until I couldn’t take it, all the while still not knowing—why? I couldn’t recognize. (I’m convinced it’s no fault of anyone but the Irish Catholic, Philly strong and proud, resisting mental health for divine will or some shit. Maybe I shouldn’t blame, and “let go, let God.” We should not be so hard on others, nor ourselves. Perhaps timing is crucial.)
My memory may be piss poor, but somehow I know myself, maybe too damn well sometimes, at least now. I want to believe deep down then too, I did; at least before, though small-frame and experience prevented release in any manner other than confusion and yelling; no true word for it then. Shame, coated in dried dead leaves, left alone outside in cold alcoves at the end of recess for, well, until now.
Shameless presently (barely), bedrooms full of adult siblings and our father, all doors shut for the night, glowing from the bottom sliver gap illuminating my path down the hall toward an empty bed. Shamelessly present, I don’t remember thinking things would ever end up anything like this. Until we reach the point we realize maybe life isn’t going to be exactly what we thought it was, or nearly half as great, we still wouldn’t want to do it all again, because it always ends the same, we never can remember, or quite put our finger on why...
And once again, in the middle of it all, the hallway, like the all-purpose room, like kissing her lips for the first time, and the last, I just forget how I got here, and wonder if it’s all some dream I can press rewind on and play back from the beginning, redo, if I just really put my mind to it and open my third eye or some shit. And that I know everything that lies ahead somewhere deep within. And that none of this even happened, and soon I’ll snap out of it and wake up someone completely different in a time past, or future—just anywhere but here, anyone but this shell. Present seems to repeat, and I’ve become nauseous remaining on loop, longing for peace and a path without a perpetually hungry monster. Bright ideas infiltrate. Perhaps one could, ideally, switch their loop, for just a second, jump to a different cycle, soul renewed and infantile, a new vessel to ding and dent and destroy; ideally, one could control it, master the art of choosing the best path for their past-selves and navigate one loop, to stay, to remain present in and love and live. They’d jump, of course, but never off the loop, unless (of course) they chose to. Change, and control, and remembrance. They’d hold hands, and together, truly, live. Could be “F-U-N.” Might be “a-c-t-i-v-i-t-i-e-s.” Hey, kiddo, you can remember, so you can decide.
Maybe there’s never a loop for you to stick with, and you’re always jumping off in the end, and the second-go-round is never the same, and yeah, I can accept that— I almost prefer it that way. Maybe that’s what death is, if you haven’t gathered my generalized allegory; that brief moment of chaos (no matter how peaceful) when your soul skips town and finds a new loop on which to rest. Shedding shells still to gain fresh vessels, re-grow, reset button, “please be kind, rewind.” If it is death, I couldn’t possibly be expected recall. But you can’t control it, at least the where, you couldn’t possibly ever know if it were true, because you could never remember, just never could quite put your finger on it. The kitten always shirks back, just as a hand reaches out to pet it, hair-lengths from finger’s reach. Even those of us who get to the level of tip-of-the-tongue can’t quite remember who we were before... Donnie Darko shit. I can never seem to keep my head on straight.
And in the end, I know I won’t remember anything, because that’s how it began, and how it was always meant to be. Unless... somehow I break the loop. So I’ve been told, nothing is impossible. But I think if I did, I’d almost prefer it the other way. I don’t know I could handle truth’s entirety. I don’t know, without peace, if anyone can. And what room would that leave for mistakes, so crucial for shame, so integral to intelligible life? But the thought sounds “F-U-N,” doesn’t it?