This routine requirement both baffled and deeply offended me. Was she going to line up too and use the potty with us? Was it suddenly socially acceptable to strip off and take a crap in front of people? How dare she compel me to disregard modesty? Why would I want an audience watching me perform my ablutions?
So many unanswered questions.
I would beg her not to make me to publically debase myself in such tasteless, undignified act, and typically sulked for hours afterwards when she ignored my petition. *
I was a very modest three-year-old.
My earliest memories are not of events, but rather very strong feelings and emotions. Excitement as a two-year old watching my Nana receive a bicycle for her 60th birthday. Disappointment and shame on my second birthday because I received a doll when I wanted money in a card, like my brothers. Terror as a four-year-old at Expo ‘88 watching the fireworks. Elation when we moved to the country and I received my first pair of blue gumboots. Rage when a boy in grade one sassed me. Inconsolable grief when I lost my first teddy bear.
I think it was the strength of the emotions which made me remember the events at all. But then when I got a little older I started to remember things on the strength of the occurrences themselves.
I was nine years old and driving home from school with my mother one afternoon when, sitting at the traffic lights not two minutes from home, I made a fierce promise to myself always to remember that particular moment. Not because it was anything special – it was the most ordinary moment in the world, as we tiredly waited for the light to turn green in an old ’82 Ford Laser with no air conditioning and the afternoon sun in our eyes – but because I was suddenly aware that the majority of life’s happenings are made obsolete almost as soon as they occur; and what is pivotal one second is forgotten the next. I pictured the innumerable thoughts and incidents surrounding billions of human beings for millennia – some extraordinary, some mundane – but all vanished into nothingness, quietly tucked away from view in the past. Where do all of these stories go to? Memories are proud. Once forgotten, they rarely come back.
Not that I was able to reason it out like that at the time. But in some small way, I wanted to remember a moment forever, no because it was special or set apart by any strong emotion, but just so it wouldn’t be forgotten. That was the one I chose, and nearly twenty years later, it feels like a special one indeed.
And in another twenty years, what will I remember about today?
There is an enormous window next to my bed which runs nearly the length of my room. When I woke up this morning I spent a few minutes staring out of the window at the new day. It was grey and drizzly and windy. It was very windy. The trees told me it was windy. The air was filled with leaf litter and crackling with life; bark and leaves were being buffered about, the leaves suspended in the air longest, twisting about madly in revolution after revolution, the wind yanking them this way and that, and the bark sinking heavily through the air and crashing to the ground, like old clothing carelessly discarded. The energy, the electricity from this elemental dance was thrilling. My window is suddenly a cinema screen, the day is a movie, and I am the tucked-up observer, wondering what will come next, what players will feature and how will they fare? Would any of those wild and gadding leaves fly down to my window, touch it, let me see up close how they spun and moved and make me feel as though I’d had a real-life encounter with celebrity? Some fly some overhead (they will land on the roof), and others fall short and land in the garden. Their source, a soaring silver bark gum on a slope not twenty meters away, is the star of the movie, the one I cannot take my eyes off.
He is chattering – it couldn’t possibly be described as anything else – fiercely talking to every single leaf, shaking them all to attention, saying wildly, “Hold on for dear life, or the wind will have you!” The leaves are chattering with fear, exhilaration and because they are compelled to. The wind whips through them, laughing and howling, threatening to tear them away, swiping this way and that, orphaning them and laying them to rest on the earth. In twos and threes they are snapped from their source, at first surprised, wildly liberated for a few moments and then slowing down moments before they come to rest on the earth, a roof, a car, because they realise that the flight of freedom is brief, and the slumber of death forever. The settle themselves gently, comfortably and prepare for permanence, sighing in a final sort of way.
So I guess I will always remember that moment, because it was when I realised there are no ordinary moments, no unimportant things; that entire worlds and lives and dramas are in play all around us every second, consuming and life-altering to the players in them if only a brief, pleasant distraction from getting out of bed for me.
Although let’s face it – for me, pretty much everything is a welcome distraction from getting out of bed.
* Mrs Johns was the perfect day-care mother in every other respect. I loved her cat Minty and she was the only person to indulge my partiality towards plain mayonnaise sandwiches.