During my senior year of college, my final class for my literature degree was called Sources of the Self. We read some theory, and a great many memoirs, and we spent a lot of time discussing and writing about the nature of memory. One of our assignments was to write our earliest memory. I had two, one a very early and very partial memory. The other was a little more formed, so I chose that one. To my dismay, after I’d written it, I couldn’t remember it properly anymore. I could tell the story, but I’d lost the sense of it in my body, the flavor of it. I resented that loss for years, and I was astonished at how fragile that thread could be.
Today I finished reading a graphic novel. In the final few pages, there’s a frame in which the narrator is sitting on her father’s lap and he’s letting her steer the car while he drives. In the instant it took to absorb that image and the text that appeared with it, my memory came back to me in its visual, sensory, non-narrative fullness, for the first time in 17 years. I read the end of my book with tears in my eyes, so grateful to have this tiny, powerful event returned to me, after I’d long since forgotten any hope of knowing it again.
Memory is a strange beast, and I’m not going to unsettle it by retelling that first memory. But I’m so delighted and surprised to have it back.