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My life, defined: Part I June 9, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Who Am I?.
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A catalog of self-defining moments:

MY FIRST MEMORY: It’s late 1978, the beginning of the hot season in the Philippines and the end of the rainy season. I’m about a year and a half old and suffering from prickly heat. I’m lying on my stomach, wearing a cloth diaper. My dad is rubbing cool talcum powder into my back, attempting to ease the itching, and singing the song “Dixie.” This is the first thing I remember, and it makes me wonder if this was my first memory of love: comforting touch and cheerful music.

MY FIRST HEAD TRAUMA: It’s spring of 1980 and I live in a rented house on base in Guam. My mother has never cut my hair, and it is very long and shiny black. My mother has warned me about jumping on her bed, but I love the forbidden adventure. She has a seventies-green faux velvet bedspread with tassles fringing the edges. Bouncing on this fuzzy bedspread is a tactile pleasure. I flop onto my back and crack my head against the corner of my mother’s hardwood nightstand. I scream and cry and run for my mother. I find her, and she asks me if I’ve been jumping on the bed. I confess. She scolds me for a few minutes, then sends me to my room. I turn to take my punishment, and remember hearing my mother scream. My back is soaked in blood.

I am rushed to the military hospital. The doctors decide that, instead of shaving my head, examining the injury, and giving me stitches, that they are going to appeal to vanity and instead simply tie my hair in a knot over the wound and send me home with an inflated latex glove to play with. I actually suffered a skull fracture which was never subsequently examined, and I have a two inch dent in my head for the rest of my life. I entertain the idea of visiting a phrenologist occasionally, but in seriousness I wonder if this injury changed me or my perceptive ability in any way. I have an irrational fear of jumping on trampolines that has lasted into my thirties.

MY FIRST YEAR OF SCHOOL: It’s fall of 1981 and my dad has been stationed in Virginia. We live within walking distance of the elementary school, and as my mother walks me to the school I remember being impressed by the crossing guard. After a few weeks of kindergarten, my mother gets a phone call from Mrs. Dorey, my kindergarten teacher. Yes, I remember her name. Mrs. Dorey tells my mother that she doesn’t think I belong in kindergarten. My mother asks if I need to be held back. Mrs. Dorey says no, she means that she thinks I would be more suited to the first grade. My father is out to sea and so my mother writes him a letter and waits for him to make a call through the ham radio operator to discuss moving me up. They decide it would be a good idea, and so I am moved into the first grade classroom.

A week or so of first grade, and my mother gets another phone call. It is Mrs. Sears, my first grade teacher. Yes, I remember her name, too. Mrs. Sears tells my mother she doesn’t think I belong in the first grade. My mother is worried that I am suffering in the first grade, and lets Mrs. Sears know it won’t be a problem to move me back to kindergarten. “No, Mrs. Brown,” says Mrs. Sears. “I think she belongs in second grade.”

So my mother writes another letter and waits a few weeks for my father to call. This time, they decide to keep me in the first grade. They fear the social struggles I will have as a five year old in a class of seven year olds and beyond.

At my high school graduation, I joke that I’m the only senior who should have been a junior AND should have graduated already. I never felt socially awkward about being the youngest female in my class, but all my friends post high school have been, on average, a decade or more older than I and I married a man eighteen years older than I am. I wonder how significant age is to me subconsciously.

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