Posted by: Kate | December 29, 2010

First Memory

…at about nine months…

No sounds come with this one; apparently my mental television set came wired for visuals but the audio hadn’t been connected right away. I was small, sitting on the floor of my grandparents’ living room, amidst a forest of red-orange-black-and-a-little-bit-of-yellow shag carpet, which helps me to date the memory. My mother’s parents had bowed to the pressure of the ’70s and installed this horrendous carpet, which ensured that the room was never truly silent no matter what noises might be absent from it. Before my first birthday they declared defeat in the face of true interior design hostility and ripped out the carpeting, sanding down to hardwood and then immediately covering the wood with a cluster of mismatched throw rugs – each one pretty enough on its own, but together creating a new cacophony on the floor – so as not to be mistaken as riding the cutting edge of any sort of fashion trend, for the home or body.

There is no photographic evidence of this assault on the world’s flooring sensibilities, which actually allows me to legitimize my memory a little bit: this is not a memory built from a photograph, but its own entity, somehow placed within reach for later recall despite occurring a few years before the average earliest memory. It sits on a little mental island, several years between it and my next conscious memory.

I sat, and wobbled a little, and surveilled the carpeting. It didn’t occur to me that this might someday be remotely significant on any level; then again, at nine months old, chances are that not very many things occurred to me in a conscious sense. Suddenly I was quickly but smoothly scooped up to grownup height, again not giving proper attention to the event and thus not registering which adult. I’m pretty certain, though, that I had not mastered the skill of self-propulsion – I still can’t fly, though I haven’t quite given up hope – so someone was carrying me, facing outward, my back against their chest. I watched the hallway slide past – big mirror, doors whose openability I had not yet grasped, inspirational poem or two, photographs – and arrived in the den. And then it fades to black, and my next memory involves being three and spilling a former mushroom container of beads in the parking lot outside my preschool facility.

…at five years…
A few brief visual snippets intervene, but my first narrative memory takes place in a medical-type office. I was sitting alone in a very small room, approximately a third of which was taken up by a standard issue gunmetal gray desk. The chair wasn’t comfortable, and I knew I would get in trouble again if I continued trying to spin it around, so I sat still and waited. I wore a pair of very thick, heavy, headphones, clamped just a little too tightly around my head and completely covering my ears. The walls were painted in a dull, mustard yellow, with thousands of tiny holes in them, each hole a bit larger than the head of a pin and offering no apparent pattern to offer any visual interest.

A voice came through my headphones, quiet enough not to hurt but sudden enough to make me jolt in surprise. “Kate, can you hear my voice now?” I nodded, and then realized that in front of me, on the other side of the desk, there was a large plate window, and now I could see my mom and the woman with the long brown ponytail that had led me into this room a few minutes before. In retrospect, I believe they had just then entered the room and flicked on the light, because I believe I would have noticed my mother sooner. I was smart – something about myself that I already knew, both because I always chose to read an SRI book instead of joining my first-grade classmates in the books-and-coloring corner during free time and because all the grownups I knew kept telling me so – but I felt some anxiety in this place, because I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do here, and ambiguity was bothersome stuff.

I knew I was there to see how well my ears worked; I had been going for routine tests for a long time, ever since I was a baby and had fallen ill with a severe ear infection and started showing symptoms of being hard of hearing. But was I supposed to have bad hearing or good? I don’t recall ever considering the possibility of simply responding accurately: a test was something you did well at, and I just needed to know whether a good grade would be revealed through missing lots of answers or through getting them all right. The ponytailed woman said, “Do you remember what we talked about, Kate? I need you to listen carefully to the sounds, and to point to that ear when you first start to hear it.”

OK. Sounds like she wants me to get the answers right. She had a desk in her own room, though it was mostly covered by a big machine-looking thing covered with knobs and buttons and levers. I watched as she pressed a button on the left side, then slowly started to raise one of the levers until I could faintly hear a low-pitched beep in my right ear. I waited, and she said, “That’s pretty loud now, Kate. Can you hear it?” It didn’t sound loud to me, but the message had been received: I was supposed to get more answers right, not fewer. So I watched her, and tapped my headphones on the corresponding side whenever she pressed a button, regardless of whether I heard anything. Her smile, and my mother’s, got bigger with each passing response, and so my earnest, eager self had figured out how to get positive attention. Good for me.

There’s an irony, I think, to the fact that my first memory involving a test features cheating in order to get a “better” score. I, who could have taken each spelling test at school three times in the amount of time it took my classmates to do it once, hadn’t even realized it was possible to rig the outcomes to any test. After this day, I was labeled as having normal hearing, and was sent home, never to darken the door of an audiologist’s office for the next eleven years, never quite realizing that it wasn’t normal to hear constant ringing in both ears or to need to see a person’s face in order to understand their words.

…at age 32…
Suddenly, I was sitting in the back of an ambulance, without any memory of the events immediately before this. I recognized the faces of the EMTs who were talking to me, though I couldn’t assign either one a name. Their mouths were moving around and sound came out, and suddenly I realized they were making words. And not just random words: they were asking me questions. “Do you know your name? Do you know today’s date? Where are you?”

Of course I know my name, that’s like the most fundamental thing ever. Everyone knows their own name. Mine is… huh. What do you know about that? That’s the sort of information that sits there, right on the tip of your brain, ready to hop off your tongue and be released into the wild at a moment’s notice. My name, it’s… wow. I really don’t know. Wait, don’t tell me, I’ll get there.



Hang on.


Kate. Yes, that sounds right, Kate. Good for me! Now, those other questions, that was some weird and deep stuff. I couldn’t be expected to lug around knowledge about things like the date and the current President of the United States. Too obscure. But my name, phew, what a relief. I had a minute there where I thought maybe the seizure had taken that away from me.

What, what? A seizure? Is that what happened? How odd. I don’t have seizures. Never done that before. Oh, look, their mouths are moving again, what a neat trick. What’s my name? Didn’t we just go over this? It’s obviously… oh. Um. Wait. I know this one. My name is… uh oh. No, no, wait, I’ve got it right here, it’s Kate.


…at age 32, nine months later…
Holy crap are my eyelids heavy. This is the strangest thing. I know I’m… somewhere. But in order to figure out where, I need to be able to pry these suckers open, and right now that might require a rope-and-pulley system. It seems like figuring out some of the details – not my name this time, I knew that part, and I also knew that I had a whole lot of pain crawling through my body – might be worth investigating.

I had managed to drag those suckers open twice the day before, so I knew I could do it. OK. Let’s try. On the count of… no, counting takes too much effort. Let’s just… there. Oh, it’s bright in here. And pain, yes, there’s lots of that happening. But look, someone is walking into the room. I know that face: that’s Willem. He’s smiling, though it’s a strained, worried smile that I’ve never quite seen before. But it’s a smile nonetheless, so apparently things aren’t entirely hopeless.

I got busy with the process of forming the question, What happened? It took the better part of a half hour to get the question out, and the answers are still, even now, trickling in. But my first memory, after the coma, is seeing my husband’s face, and I lean on that when some of the other answers are too hard to take in.

It’s Madhouse Wednesday… and I posted before dinnertime! Amazing! How about you, did you post? Did they?

Allison – Allimonster Speaks
Barb – Spencer Hill Spinning & Dyeing
Batty – Batty’s Adventures in Spooky Knitting
Dave – Notes from the Field
Eileen – Art Deco Diva Knits
Evil Twin’s Wife – The Glamorous Life of a Hausfrau
G – Not-A-Box
Heather – She Flies With Her Own Wings
Jennifer – Ask Poops, Please
JMLC – Daydreams and Ruminations
Kate – One More Thing
LC – LC in Sunny So Cal
Lisa – As If You Care
Louise – Child of Grace
Marcy – Mittentime
Melanie – usually, things happen
Nikki – Land of the Free, Home of the Depressed
Peri – knitandnatter
Sara – yoyu mama


  1. What is it about 70’s carpetiing? I have some carpet memories too, about the carpet that was in the basement of our house when we first moved in. I was 3, and the carpet was this incredibly ugly brown-and-ochre pattern that passed for attractive in 1979. Ugh! What an eyesore. I can still see it when I close my eyes. No idea why carpet stays with us like that.

  2. Your description of the carpet makes me think of my grandparents’ couch and loveseat – cream base with gigantic orange and brown flowers covering it all. Ugh, and also among my earliest memories!

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