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Memory and Firsts

Memory is a strange, mutable, unreliable thing. I was thinking about my first kiss and got upset when I momentarily couldn’t remember the name of the boy it was with. I knew it took place in the shampoo aisle at a KMart in the mall. I could recall the particulars, but was that only because I had written about it in University?

At Trent University, I was accepted into a creative writing course in second year run by Orm Mitchell, W.O. Mitchell’s son. We had the assignment to write ten pages of “freefall” every week. Freefall is a process in which a writer simply writes whatever comes to mind. For me, a lot of what I wrote came from childhood and teenage memories. I am doubly grateful for having been accepted into that course because I’m finding holes in my memory where there weren’t any before. It seems that lately, the only things I remember are the events I wrote about. I realize that I could essentially rewrite my memories if I wrote them down incorrectly. Did I take artistic license, perhaps, with the images and stories I now hold in my mind? Nobody said that what I wrote in free fall had to be true. Maybe I did and I don’t remember, so that now the things I remember are fiction. Scary thought.

My sister recently told me about the first time that mom made us ride a bus in from our small town to the Mall in the city. I have absolutely no recollection of this experience and it makes me feel uneasy. My sister insists that it was both of us. This would have been rather a big deal for us country girls, and I can’t imagine why I’ve blocked this from my mind. She describes it as being an unpleasant experience, where the only other passengers were the Old Order Mennonites, smelling of body odor and manure. Maybe my sister was forced to go on her own, since she didn’t get her license until the age of 18. I was driving practically since the day I turned 16 - I took my first trip alone to visit a friend who lived in Waterloo. It bothers me that not even an inkling of riding the country bus rings familiar.

The only memory I have of a bus ride was a traumatic one: my parents had attended an Optometry Convention in Vancouver. Dad had to go home, presumably back to work, and my sister, Mom, and I took a very long Greyhound bus ride to visit my mom's Godmother in Oregon. The bus made stops every few hours, people would get off, go to the bathroom, eat, get back on. We'd trade one tired and worn out passenger for another fresh one. At one stop, Kathy and Mom decided to get off and use the bathroom. I stayed on (reading, I imagine). The bus started to pull away from the stop, and mom and Kathy weren’t on it. I was terrified, stood up, and began hurrying down the aisle to tell the bus driver to please stop because my mom and sister weren’t on the bus. A woman passenger sympathized with me, clucking and giving me reassurance - I was crying. I must have only been 10. The bus driver was irritated and impatient. My family came running towards the bus and climbed on, out of breath. I was so angry and upset. So traumatizing. It seems absolutely silly now. Why can I not remember a bus ride from Elmira to the mall? Was it a usual thing? A onetime thing?

The more senses that were involved in the memory, the more clearly I remember; the humid darkness of an enclosed room, a nervous giggle, the taste of root beer on a boy’s mouth when we played Two Minutes in the Closet at my friend Mike’s house. The boy had taken a swig from the can he was holding just before kissing me wetly on the mouth. It was a friendly yet obligatory kiss, prescribed by the game, not some culminating event that had been building or filled with nervous anticipation.

I had decided that it couldn't count as a first kiss.


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