Write about your earliest memory. Good, bad, happy or sad. Before you begin, take time to dwell in that memory. Absorb everything you can about it. What you see, what you smell, what you hear and mostly, how you feel. Let it resonate. Marinate your mind in that one moment. Then begin.
“You want to know about my earliest memory,” I confirm with my 12-year-old niece, Manda, before travelling down that perilous road.
Manda, covered in a warm throw, slouches in the leather recliner across from me, my 20lb black cat, Indy, sprawled without apology across her lap. “Sure, if you want to share. I mean, it’s another school assignment ~ you know, interview an adult about their earliest memory and write about it.” She pauses, trying to act nonchalant, like it doesn’t really matter, but I know it does. Somehow she has the idea that I have the best stories. I don’t know why she doesn’t ask her parents these questions. “You know,” she continues, “like, do you remember what it was like before the telephone, that sort of thing.”
I throw her a sharp look. “I’m not that old,” I bark, playfully.
“I know,” Manda teases while scratching Indy under the chin, “I’m just trying to get you going. So, what is your earliest memory.”
“Give me a moment to think about it.”
While Manda continues to cuddle the cat I’m abandoned to the past. I’ve been on the planet a half century and complex-PTSD has buried my memories beneath layers of trauma I’ve been working to heal. I don’t want to share something that might hurt her tender heart, notwithstanding it may be my earliest memory.
“Excuse me, sweetie, I’ll be right back.”
“No problem,” Manda responds absently.
I get up from my rocker and head to the kitchen to stare out the window at the horses quietly grazing in the paddock beside the house. It’s early spring and the grass is greening up. Soon, my equine friends will need to be on limited turnout to prevent them from getting sick with the high sugar content. Horses love sugar, and the grass is rich here in the spring. Old Molly horse is cranky, lifting a leg as if to strike the rambunctious yearling who keeps pushing her boundaries. Boundaries, yes, boundaries. My earliest memories reflect crossed boundaries. Not going there with Manda.
Ol’ Moll buries her nose in the round bale. Junior has moved on to pester someone else. In the massive maple the robins flit and flee. Birds. Charlie. Charlie the canary. My first pet. A bird cage. Newspaper lining the bottom. Bird seed all over the place. I’d rather muck stalls than change tray paper. Still, it’s not the memory I want to share with Manda.
Max, the ginger and white barn cat, perches patiently on the fence post, his eyes half closed as he basks in the early season sun. He’s my fourth orange and white cat. They just seem to gravitate to me, for some reason. Such characters, those red-headed boys. My first one, Alfie, could catch a pigeon before it touched ground and …
“Aunt Sal, where are you?”
“I’m in the … “
“I know you’re in the kitchen,” Manda notes with a hint of impatience, “I mean, where are you? Can I be there, too?”
I turn to face my lovely niece who’s standing in the doorway looking a little worried. She’s still unspoiled by the world and growing more mindful by the day, and I like to think I’ve had something to do with that. I’m the de facto baby sitter while her parents earn their bread and butter. They’re good people, too, but children can always benefit from the loving attention of an objective third-party. I love to pick her up after school and bring her here ~ her home away from home.
“Yes, okay … sorry …” I reach for the biscuit tin filled with chocolate digestives and offer her one. Manda helps herself.
“Where were you?”
“Who’s Alfie?” Manda gives me that quizzical look with which she’s always so generous when something doesn’t make sense. Her eyes half closed, head tilted, lips slightly pinched.
“Alfie was my first red-head,” I say pointing at Max.
“You mean you had another cat like Max?” She asks between nibbles of biscuit. “You’ve had more than one red-head?”
“Yes, in fact Max is number four.”
“Four!!!” Manda exclaims, amazed.
“Yes … Alfie, Gus, Oskar and Max,” I affirm. “But let’s focus on Alfie.”
“Why was he named Alfie?”
“Actually,” I grin as memory recalls, “his full name was Alfredo Raffaello di Verdi ~ Alfie for short. Your grandma named him after operatic characters. And a character he was. He used to follow me and the dog when we went for walks around the neighbourhood. He invaded the vicar’s summer garden party once and helped himself to the salmon. He slept on the kitchen table beside my pile of books when I was doing my homework. He … “
“How old were you when you had Alfie?” Manda asks, confused.
“Hmmm … we got him when I was seven years old and he died when I was … 21?” I have to think about it.
“You were seven?” Manda asks, disbelieving. “And this is your earliest memory?”
“It’s the earliest memory I’m going to share with you,” I wink while offering her another biscuit.
©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016