September 15, 2004 19:32 | Bits / Confession

Memories of perceptions

Guildenstern: What's the first thing you remember?
 Rosencrantz: Oh, let's see... The first thing that comes into 
              my head, you mean?
Guildenstern: No--the first thing you remember.
 Rosencrantz: Ah... No, it's no good. It's gone. It was 
              a long time ago.
Guildenstern: No, you don't take my meaning. 
              What's the first thing you remember after
              all the things you've forgotten?
 Rosencrantz: Oh, I see... I've forgotten the question.

"Rosencrantz & Gildenstern are Dead" - Tom Stoppard

My early childhood memories are very scarce and generally fall into the category of "environmental realizations", and more specifically "all is not what it seems/do not rely on mental images" and "justness is a rarity".

All is not as it you may think it.

Growing up in a somewhat isolated area, filled with forests, I would often take a shortcut through one to visit my friends. Sometimes I'd emerge at the Roach's, sometimes at the Reyburn's. This perplexed me no end for a while, until one day I actually watched the path I was on only to realize there was a fork halfway down it.
"Always be aware of your environment. Dummy."

We are not all born under the same star.

Riding on a bus from Port-Au-Prince Airport to the Club Med Haïti through villages built of corrugated sheet steel, watching children bathe in the rain and roadside ditch puddles.
"How can this be? Why do I not live like them, and they not like I?"

Wading about, water up to my nostrils, in the Galt Ocean Resort swimming pool in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I watch an older white boy repeatedly dunk a younger black girl under the water, despite her cries and pleas. I feel a swell of indignant rage as I pluck a tennis ball floating by and bean the sonofabitch square in the forehead. He rushes over and without ceremony punches me in the mouf.
"Hmmm... not quite the resolution I was looking for."

As for this one:

Rosencrantz: Whatever became of the moment when one first 
             knew about death? There must have been one. 
             A moment. In childhood. When it first occured to you
             that you don't go on forever. It must have been 
             shattering, stamped into one's memory. And yet, 
             I can't remember it.

Amazingly I DO remember the moment. However, it was in a dream, or rather a nightmare. "That thing is looking right at me and it is gonna end me." Though it was not shattering and not all that marking, thus did begin a lifelong walk along the fine line between my conscious and subconscious.

Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.

This all culminates in a far more recent memory from ten years ago. I often tell this one to try to relate the confusion that happens when you separate meaning from symbol...

I was working as a dish pig/delivery boy for a Szechwan restaurant that summer. After miraculously navigating my way out on a delivery, I stood at the door of the client, bag of steaming chinese food dangling from my left hand, holding up the delivery slip in my right. The symbol on the paper (the street address, 25) looked very much like the one on the door (also 25), but I just didn't get it.
"These scribbles... they mean nothing to me at this moment..."

*Ding dong*