Pretty much the first thing I can remember, my very first memory in this world, was digging my wooden cage, where they kept me. I was in the hospital for a hernia operation: I think I was three, maybe four years old. There's nothing etched in the concrete, mind you, just some impressionist sketches that somehow got splattered on my empty memory card. In the one, I'm standing up in a big wooden crib; I wrap my hands around some slats/feeling the smooth round of the slats. I feel the slats even now, even half a life later. In the other one: I am looking up at a TV on the wall, hospital-mounted. I don't remember what was on. I wish I did though. I just have this fuzzy vision of standing there in my cell/crib, looking up at that televison on the wall. And there were other kids around too. Other sick kids, I guess.
I revisit those moments a lot these days as I try and guess when my daughter's first real memory will burn itself into her mind. Will she be three or four, or older? Will I be in it? I wanna be in it bad. I want her first memory to be her father, standing mid-stream, his fly rod arc'd, a silvery trout the size of a hanging provolone dancing across the shimmering ripples.
Or I want her to remember a Christmas morning where Dad and Mom come into her room just as she's beginning to stir. We lift her out of bed and set her down and take her hand and lead her out into the living room where we've already cut the lamps so that only the lights on the tree illuminate the world. Magic reds and blues and yellows and greens glinting off the garland, sparking off the tinsel. I want her breath to flip over on itself as effervesence shoots through her heart like a jar of lightning.
But, I know. That isn't how shit goes. With my luck, her first memory, that first tiny Polaroid magneted to the fridge door in her sweet little head, will more than likely be something weird. Or gross. She'll pop out of bed some night and open her door all by her big girl self and wander around some, looking for Mommy and Daddy. She'll pitter patter across the carpet, into the kitchen, across the cheap plastic floor. She'll poke her tiny nose in the small opening leading into our bedroom: and see two pink Orcas wrestling while the dogs lay at the foot of the bed, damaged beyond comprehension by years of witness, years of lying there, inches from the deed getting done. Christ, I hope not. For everyone's sake, but especially my daughter's.
No, it can't go that wrong.
Chances are Violet's first memories will rise up out of some common afternoon. When nothing seems remarkable or exciting, when raindrops are pinging off the front window glass and there is the slight waft of burning toast rolling down the hall, something, some abstract moment in time, will speed down out of the Heavens and suction cup itself to my little girl's history. And then it will have begun, for her. The long winding train of days hooting its whistle at the bottom of the mountain and rolling out for the long journey to come.
Maybe it'll happen some Saturday morning, when I'm microwaving frozen pancakes.
I don't know why I wonder this shit. It could be because I'm constantly staring at her from across the couch or in the rearview. I'm always looking at her in strange wonder. It fascinates me more than anything that has ever happened: what is she seeing right now as she is gawking at that tree while we're stopped at a red light. What does she feel when she catches her first glimpse of me or Monica in the early morning kitchen. What the hell is she thinking when she's all pensive in the tub each night, the warm bath water floating her plastic boats around The Cape of Her Toes as she just sits there and stares hard into the eyes of a Wal-Mart Brontosaurus.
Life is always going off all around her. Around us. Like paparazzi flashbulbs. A hundred times a day, I see her registering stuff/ plugging in facts/ smiling at her own homemade notions as they skip out across the backs of her eyes. It thrills me. And not just because it's my own kid, though I know that's a huge part of it. It just makes me damn giddy to think that somewhere, at some random second down the line, I might just happen to saunter into someone's very first memory. Little old me, the star of Act One.
That floors me.
And so, I keep barging into her fields. Outta the corners of her eyes, I come wandering out, standing in front of The Wonder Pets or whatever she's trying to clock on the tube; the lumbering oaf who knows where the food is/how to make the room dark/when to come in in the morning. That guy with the Pancake Power, hanging around like a playa on the corner, trying to crowbar his way into something real real good.
The dude who swipes the diapers: finagling to be in the shot when the mighty shot gets taken.