Tips about Remembering
by Kat Coe
Accessing early memories can be a real challenge.
However, if you are willing to do make yourself space – both in your surroundings and in your self – you may find yourself able to remember more than you thought you could.
Think back – what is your first memory? When I first tried this exercise, the first memory I could put my finger on was being at a townhouse with my mother, shortly after my parent’s divorce. Then, I pushed myself. I found some quiet time (which isn’t easy in my very busy household), closed my eyes and let myself settle into yesterday.
Sometimes you have to dig!
What I then remembered were less concrete memories: they weren’t specific events. Rather, I remembered images: a bear skin hanging high, high on a wall beside what seemed like a forever tall brick fireplace, the head of a mountain goat looking down at me from the same wall, an airplane, floating above me, hanging from the ceiling. I had no idea what (or where) these images were from – I hadn’t grown up in homes with skins or taxidermied animals on display. So, I asked my parents.
My father initially said that he had no idea what I was talking about. “We never had any animal skins.”
This reaction stumbled me a bit. I thought, “Maybe I’m making this up… maybe I’m trying too hard.” I felt a bit foolish and wanted to give up. But, I decided to dig in and ask my mother, hoping that she might remember.
My mother couldn’t place these images, either. I was frustrated, to say the least. But, as I let myself relax into the conversation with her, my mind was able to release more information. “I know it was a memory, Ma,” I said. “I seem to remember that wherever we were, it was at the top of a long drive up a hill…”. Aha! Suddenly my mother looked straight at me and said, “My God! But you were only… well, you were younger than three! Yes, now I remember – we were at the “P’s” house. They were living at the top of hill road, remodeling the house that Greg’s father had owned for a long time. But that’s so funny, because they were actually living in the apartment below the house, and we only went up into the house long enough to get some things out of the oven. I remember that I laid you down on the floor, in your seat, and went to help Sherrie get the dinner stuff out of the oven. That’s so funny! I can’t believe you remember that.”
When I went back to my father with my mother’s clearer sense of what those images were, he remembered and was able to open up and talk about some things that he hadn’t thought about for years.
Being willing to ask my parents about something that seemed vague and unfamiliar, but wouldn’t get out of my head when I thought about “Memory,” jogged even more remembrances in my parents. Because of this, I was able to talk with them about additional events that occurred, early in my life. They both began talking with me about their divorce, and the years that preceded the divorce, in a way they’d never before done. The amazing thing was, their jogged memories, in turn, pulled up further memories in own mind!
Looking back can be scary, sometimes. Especially when you start finding things that you either suppressed as a coping mechanism! But don’t give up! Looking back won’t kill you – learning about yourself, who you were, will help you learn about who you are and how you got to where you are, today.
Someone once said that if you want your writing to touch people, you have to be willing to write what makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it was me – I can’t be sure – but I think it’s true!
However, writing the uncomfortable truths can be frightening – and it can be consuming.
I can say, from personal experience, that it is wise to consider having someone to talk with, as you begin this process. When I began researching a specific time in my childhood, some very dark things surfaced. It was overwhelming. I started seeing a therapist, talking with her about the memories and what the memories were stirring up in me, emotionally. It’s too easy, when you’re looking back, to get stuck in dark or painful memories. It’s hard work to write your story (at least, to write it well), and it’s harder still (at least for me), to ask for help – to admit that I can’t handle everything on my own, all the time. But I’m awfully glad that I did.