02 – memories
My name is Helen, though that was not the name I was born with. My last name is E., though that was not the last name I was born with. In life, we are given certain memories of ourselves and our environments that eventually shape who we become to be. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” In my life, there are certain memories that I am blessed with (or cursed with, in some cases). By knowing my memories, you know just a bit more than you normally would. These are the things in my head that shape how I see myself.
- When I was about 3 years old, my Uncle 8 was holding me and in his excitement he threw me up towards the ceiling. I squealed and cried, which was mistaken for mutual excitement. I was scared to death of falling. He caught me in mid-air, and everyone laughed and had a great time with this performance. I remember the feeling of being horrified and terrified, yet completely relieved that I was back safe in his arms.
- In kindergarten, I was playing a balancing act on a grass curb in the playground during recess when another male classmate ran by and knocked me over. I broke my right arm and was in a cast for a month. I briefly remember this faceless boy knocking me over, but the thing that stuck out the most was that my Daddy came to school and picked me up to take me to the doctor’s. He carried me in his arms and to the car, with soothing words and kisses while I whimpered and cried. He was my hero. He still is.
- I remember my baby sister being born, and going to the hospital. I remember seeing her in my mother’s arms and wondering what the hell this all meant.
- I remember the adrenaline rush I had while riding my bike down the steep hill we lived on in Southern California, when I was about 8 or 9 years old. The hill, in my mind, was at least 45 degrees sharp, and every time I rode my bike charging down it, no brakes on, I thought that if I died, this was a good way to die.
- I remember in class when the teacher was telling us a story during carpet story time, she wanted us to snap our fingers along at various spots during the story. Everyone knew how to snap their fingers except me, and I felt very left out.
- One night, in the middle of the night, the earth shook violently. I hugged my body pillow tight and placed it on top of me to protect me from whatever was coming. My parents came out of the room to gather us up and out the door before the earthquake broke our home (it never did, btw). Next thing I knew, we were in the car in the pitch dark waiting… waiting… not sure what we were waiting for.
- I remember my first kiss when I was 16. It was sloppy and surreal. I walked home from school right after that, and thought that the whole world can see the crime I had just committed. I kissed someone I liked who didn’t like me the same way. I thought everyone could see my shame and my pride at the same time. I was surprised when no one commented or acted like they knew.
- I remember years later meeting Dave for the first time, seeing his big, proud smile at the airport when Will and I picked him up. I remember the look on his face, how his eyes shone, how his hair was sloppy around his eyes. I remember the sorted flowers he held in his hand, and how he walked briskly and nervously towards me. I remember his hug, heated and excited. I remember feeling very shy, and I remember thinking, “Wow.”
- I remember my father yelling at me on my graduation day, so angry that I didn’t club my car when I had parked it in the high school parking lot before the graduation event. I remember hearing laughter and happy, excited words around me from my other graduating colleagues, while standing in the dark in front of my father taking in his screams. I remember thinking, “I’m not like other girls. This isn’t like other families.”
- One day, when I was in a car with my mom, aunt, and cousins and sibs on our way to the mall, I was playing with the ashtray lid on the door in the back seat. Click. Click. Click. Click. My aunt told me to stop that, and said that I shouldn’t be playing with the door handle like that because it was dangerous. I told her I wasn’t playing with the door handle, that it was the ashtray lid. She responded back, in a firm, accusing voice, “I SAW you flipping the door handle. Don’t lie to me.” My mother believed her, and told me to stop flipping the door handle. I remember being absolutely furious, that my mother would think I was lying. I remember thinking, “Adults lie. They LIE. Oh my god, they LIE. How could they lie?” I think that was the day I lost my innocence. I never looked at my aunt the same way again.
- I remember a furious fight in my sophomore year in university with a roomate. In the heat of the argument, she yelled at me, “YOU FUCKING GOOK!” It stopped me in my tracks, and I stared at her. Then I asked, “…. That was your biggest argument? Am I supposed to be offended?” I remember the look on her face. Classic surprise and shame. I was so proud.
- I remember Dave’s face when he said “I Do” on our wedding day. The rest of the world disappeared around us, and all I could see, all I could hear, all I could feel was us. I remember thinking, “This is what happiness feels like.”
- One day, when I came home from school in my mid-teens or so, my grandfather was babysitting my brother and sister. I had just gotten home to my siblings fighting with each other. My grandfather was fed up, and asked me if I could tell them to be quiet and stop fighting. I told my siblings, “STOP IT! I’m TIRED!!!!” My grandfather said, “You’re ALWAYS tired. That wasn’t much help. You didn’t do anything.” He walked away. I felt completely ashamed and wanted to redo that moment. I didn’t want to disappoint my grandfather.
- I remember the day Dave and I found out we were pregnant. November 6, 2007. The rushed blood in and out of my brain, the tears in Dave’s eyes. We were both in our newly renovated bathroom, and we held each other for a good long time. We were laughing and crying at the same time. We became parents that day.
With every memory, a part of me solidifies. There are more, but these are the glimpses of what Helen is really like. Disappeared are the ordinary statistics: the age, the height, the location, the name, the career. None of that matters. They make me part of a statistic. Who I am I stand before you. What lives in my head, what survives from the events and experiences in my life: they are what make me who I am. I am Helen.