My mother has memories of my life which I do not possess. To some extent, this is normal. Most people don’t form memories of their births, or of their very earliest days and years of their lives. A few claim to recall moments from before they learned to walk, but this tends to be little more than a fleeting impression of sound or color or light or smell.
Their mothers, or their fathers, or their older siblings — these are the people who are able to catalogue this time in a person’s life, and file it away for years later, where the tell the tale of the time the remembered person filled their diaper so full it overflowed down their legs and up their back. They are the ones that have memories of a person’s first words and steps.
My mother has such memories of me, and I do not. This is as it should be. I don’t recall my own birth, though my mother does. She remembers holding my father’s hand and squeezing down so tight she broke his pinky. She remembers the way he didn’t tell anyone until after I was born, so that he could share that first sight of me with her. She’s told me how gross and purple I was when they first presented me to her, before they cleaned me off to be held.
My mother remembers my first day of school. She tells me about how nervous I was to get on the bus to go to kindergarten, even though we’d been to the school together and she walked around with me and took me to my classroom. I don’t remember that day, not specifically, though I do recall waiting at the edge of my driveway for the bus in the sort of vague way of knowing that it happened many times, and generally what it was like, without having a real memory of a specific instance.
My mother remembers that, in elementary school, I did not like grapes. According to her, I did, in fact, hate them. I would be very upset if they were presented to me as a part of my meal which I was required to eat. It is odd to hear her say this, because, at present, I love grapes. They are both my favorite fruit and my favorite snack in general, since I can tell myself I’m being healthy by eating grapes rather than, say, crackers.
I have no memory of ever disliking grapes, which makes my mother’s rendition of my history even stranger. The first time she told me of this, I wondered if she had confused me with one of my older siblings, but she insists that the memory is of me. She insists, even though I remember, very clearly, sitting in front of the television with a bowl full of grapes and snacking on them contentedly as I drew while watching a cartoon.
This is not the only instance of my memory not jiving with my mother’s. She says that, in the third grade, there was a big ordeal between her and the school because I came home with a bloody nose and a big bruise on the side of my head. I had, she says I told her, been in a fight. Two boys one grade older than me had beaten me up with violence uncharacteristic of children so young.
My mother, in her telling, was furious that the school had done so little to protect me. Where were they when those boys were striking me with their fists? Why hadn’t she received a call that I had been injured? Did the school nurse even check to make sure my nose wasn’t broken?
I have no recollection of any of this. My elementary days are simply a warm, fuzzy haze, shot through with slightly sharper images of the colorful floor of my kindergarten classroom, or the posters on the walls in second grade, or the iron-colored hair of my severe fourth grade teacher. I remember that I had friends, though I can’t recall their young faces despite the fact that one of them remains my friend to this day. I feel like I should recall something as dramatic as being beaten up by older boys — but there is nothing.
Three years ago, some of my friends mentioned an old CCG that I used to play in fourth grade. I got to thinking about it, and I wondered if I had any cards from my collection that might be worth anything. I went through all of the closets where stuff of mine might have been kept, but there was nothing. I approached my mom about it, asking if she had sold or given away the cards, and she had no idea what I was talking about.
I told her about how, when we went to the store, I would beg for a pack of the cards. I didn’t even know how to play very well. I just liked the art, and the cartoon that involved the characters on the cards. It was fun to look at them and sort them and pretend I had someone to play with, because my older siblings didn’t ever want to play it with me. I remember having a huge binder full of all my cards. I remember getting a collectible tin full of them at Christmas, and being ridiculously excited.
According to my mom, none of this ever happened. She, nor my dad, ever bought cards like that. She says she wouldn’t have minded, if I had liked them, but that I’d never really shown any interest in them. She said it was possible my father bought me one pack of cards, after hearing a coworker talk about his son’s interest, but that I’d never asked for more. She wasn’t even sure about that one pack, let alone the dozens that I remembered.
There are no more discrepancies like this after the sixth grade, though that whole year is one huge discrepancy. I don’t know how we made it this far without talking about it, but when we were talking about the cards, I realized that there’s one more, far larger thing my mother remembers that I do not.
My mom says that, in the sixth grade, I was very sick. I was sick enough that I spent almost an entire month in the hospital while they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. My mom says I missed over half of the school year, because I was bedridden, plagued by fatigue and nausea and the inability to focus my mind on any task set before me.
She says they never found anything — no virus, no bacteria, no cancer, no hormone imbalance; nothing. In the spring, without any indication as to why, I grew better. I went to sleep one evening, sick as I had been, and awoke as fresh and healthy as a brand new person.
I don’t remember this. Instead, I have memories of my sixth-grade teacher, a man with fiery red hair and a small, adorable dog he brought to school a few times as a reward for the students behaving well. I remember our final project, which my mom says I missed, where we had to write the first real essay of our lives. I’ve asked my friends about it, and they’ve confirmed that, indeed, they wrote such an essay; but I wasn’t there. I was out sick, they say, just as my mom says.
I am consumed by the thoughts of why other people remember my life differently from me. How could that be possible? Surely I should know my own history better than anyone. Surely my own version of my experiences is the one which should be trusted. And yet I’m the only one in whose mind that version exists. Is human memory really so fallible as to mislead me so dramatically? I suppose it must be.
It makes me feel crazy and incomplete, as though I’ve been shifted out of place, but I have to admit, they must be correct. If I’m the only one who remembers something one way, it can’t be right. I’ve always had an active imagination. It must be getting the better of me. Or perhaps my mind didn’t like those events, and so it covered them up with dust and illusions.
Either way, it makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel like they knew someone other than me, or like I was somehow swapped with someone very similar during my illness. It makes me question my whole life, and I don’t want to do that. So I’m done. I’m not going to think about it anymore. Not on purpose. This is enough.