Memories are rough for me sometimes. I’ve always felt more sad than happy, felt the weight of this world on my shoulders. I’ve always felt responsible.
I’ve spent several therapy sessions exploring my childhood, and naturally that requires me to dig into memories.
My first memory is from when I was 3 years old. I distinctly remember standing on our front porch, clutching my blanket. I think I had just woken from a nap, and had been told to go to the front door. Dad was often bringing nature to us kids; a snapping turtle in a 5 gallon bucket, a salamander slipping around inside the bathtub, a dead raccoon in the back of his truck.
Today it was a toad, and it was perched on our mailbox. I touched its blistered back, and it hopped, leaving a small puddle of pee running down the sloped lid. Later, I would believe the chipped paint that formed a rough circle on the mailbox lid was from the toads pee.
Of course there is a picture of me, hair messy and chubby cheeks, standing on the porch by our mailbox. The toad stood still long enough for one of my parents to capture this: what I know now is my first memory.
When my therapist asked me to recall the first time I ever felt responsible for someone else’s happiness or emotional state, I found that I couldn’t answer her. Thinking about my younger years, I realized that I had a hard time picturing many years of my childhood.
This made it even more difficult to answer her next query: what advice I might give now, to my younger self. I thought about this, and about my brother, who is six. To help me put the question into perspective, I asked myself what advice I would give to him at this age.
“It can’t be too scary or sad” I ruminated, “I don’t want to scare her (myself)”. All of the things popping into my head were sad and looming, nightmares and loss. Heartache and pain. I realized I was trying to come up with a solution, something that could prevent that sweet little girl from hurting.
“Make friends and do your best to keep them” I said uncertainly. “And don’t be afraid to ask questions”.
Through my work in therapy, I have come to a place of understanding. Prying open memories to find answers I never knew existed. Suddenly, I am seeing that I’m not crazy for being the way I am.
And I began to cry, thinking of me, the younger me, before the world and life itself made me old and wary. Thinking of what could have been, and what was, and who I am now.
I remembered a handful of times I wanted to ask questions, and was too afraid. I don’t know what exactly I was afraid of, maybe uttering words that I rarely heard spoken? Of being made fun of?
I was looking through an old journal of mine recently, and was reminded of how fraught with anxiety my early teen years were. How I thought the ingredients to managing myself and my body as a woman was a secret, or at least not to be discussed.
How I so badly wanted to be like the neighborhood girls I was friends with, buying a bra with their mom and shaving my terribly hairy legs. Even thinking about asking if I could use deodorant (an obvious “adult” item) made me nervous.
It just got worse from there.
I had read about menstruation, but really had no idea what I was in for, or whether what I was experiencing was “normal ” or not.
I spent weeks afraid I was dying. I’d read anything I could about periods, and for the most part, they didn’t seem too bad. Mine were bad, and I told no one.
And I don’t know why.
I look back at how afraid and alone I felt, and ask myself why. What I was so afraid of. Why I stubbornly and hopelessly turned to myself for all of the answers (and why I continue to do so).
And there aren’t always answers. But I’m learning to ask questions, to ask for help, and to accept it. I’m learning that the things I was so afraid of might be small, but to me they were insurmountable. I’m learning that I am a sensitive person. And that’s ok.