Cognitive Paleontology (Read to learn what that is)
I made my first cross country trip when I was two months old. When I say cross country, I mean we drove from southeast Alabama to central Alaska, the epitome of cross-country. We continued to live in Alaska for four years after that. Unfortunately, I have very few memories from Alaska, however few they are, I feel lucky to have them. I sat down and tried to remember everything I could about Alaska. I remember a lot of water. Lakes, streams, raging rivers, snow, ice, glaciers, waterfalls. I only remember tiny blips of major events; little snapshots of somewhere but I couldn’t tell you where we were or why we were there. It got me to thinking, what is my first full memory?
It’s an odd thing to think about. The earliest occurrence your mind can store? It’s an archaic piece of information that your conscious found necessary to keep around. It’s like searching for a fossil in the ground, in a way it defines a lot about you right? Just like a fossil defines a lot about what Earth used to be like? Cognitive paleontology if you will.
I thought about it for a long time, just when I thought I had it I’d remember something else. It took a while, but I think I’ve finally hit rock bottom, my oldest complete memory.
We had just moved to a new house in Alaska. I can see little details about the house but can’t really remember the house. It had a steep driveway, and a playground with a sandbox next to it. (I remember trying to ride a bike sans training wheels for the first time and crashing into the sandbox, but this one is even earlier). I remember there being a large field next to our house, with a sidewalk winding through it. On the far side of the field was a forest. When I think about the forest, it seems incredibly far away, as if I’m going to have to partake in an epic, Narnia-esque journey across that field to get there.
My parents (and maybe one of their friends?) were in the house doing something. The house was still relatively empty and I was bored and decided I was going to get to that forest, even if I had to enlist a giant lion and an army to help me there. I don’t remember getting there but now I’m in the forest. It looks huge, as far in as I can see, it’s trees. Trees standing tall, trees growing small, tress leaning sideways, trees on the ground, trees all around (that was my try at some Dr. Suess). I was playing on the edge of the forest and I stepped up onto an old tree stump.
Below me there was a depression in the ground. Filling the depression was a swarm of flies. I remember thinking “wow, that is a LOT of flies.” My three year old mind was fascinated, and I could picture myself standing in that swarm of flies and flailing my arms around, and what cooler way of getting in there than jumping right? I squatted low till my butt was touching my heels and jumped as high as I could above the swarm of flies, landing on my feet in the middle of the winged tornado. If this were a slow motion scene in a movie, I’d have the biggest smile on my face as as I spun around (the camera would pan opposite my spinning for some dramatic effect) arms in the air, childish giggles would be the only sound you could hear over the buzzing. I remember I could hear them buzzing way louder now that I was dominating them.
They were bees.
(scene change, music change, fast motion now, only sound is a kid screaming).
With the first sting, my flailing turned from joy to pain. Screaming, I sprinted across the field as fast as my little legs could take me. The “flies” still stinging me. Tears running down my face, mouth wide open in that typical three year old scream I flew into our house covered in bee stings to find my mom frantically scrambling to see the problem. End memory.
I don’t remember what she did, if I felt better, how many stings I had. Nothing. The entire memory stops with me getting into the house and seeing my mom sitting on the floor.
What is your first memory? Type it in a comment, or leave it for me on Facebook, I’m intrigued!