In her short story “Three Girls,” Marisa Silver writes this passage describing a young girl wandering around her house looking for some distraction:
She opened up the piano bench and pulled out old sheet music whose pages were brittle and chipped. Underneath the music for “Oranges and Lemons” lay a kindergarten drawing she’d made of a skeleton. She felt the same kind of wonder an archaeologist might experience uncovering a thousand-year-old cup, awed by the evidence of a life so fully lived, and then forgotten.
This last sentence resonates with me very much, as I’ve been spending the last few weeks sorting through boxes of dusty childhood memories. In every box, I’ve unearthed evidence of my own childhood life, of objects and events once vibrant and all-encompassing, now faded and forgotten with the passage of time.
I found a blue ribbon from the day I took my neighbour’s dog to the school pet show and she won for shortest tail, (according to the details I diligently inscribed across the fabric in bleeding felt marker). I found a foolscap page of crooked letters describing what it would be like to be a snowflake — but “I’d rather be me,” thank you very much. I found intricately folded notes from a high school friend, detailing, in code, our affections for a crush-of-the-moment. I found photos of me dwarfed within a sports jersey once worn by my favourite player, my braces-filled smile struggling against the teenage “faux pas” of having your mother take your picture when you’re over the moon.
Was that me, so many years ago? Did I create that, write that, think that, do that, laugh or swoon at that? The memories float before me now, their ambiguity tempered only by the physical objects in front of me that prove they were real. I am an archaeologist digging into my own historical ground, and the artefacts I uncover both amuse and astound me.
Yet within each of these forgotten memories, I see the unmistakable essence of who I am now. It takes me by surprise. I may not remember writing that story back in Grade Two, but it ends with a message that I would very likely include in a story today. And I hadn’t realized how crazy I was about that sports figure, but his approach to life and athletics is one that I’d certainly try to emulate today.
I’m there, in this forgotten historical residue. Even though I don’t see myself at first, I’m there. The realization brings a slow-spreading smile of wonder to my face.