Thursday, August 15, 2013

Memories are slippery things...

The unpleasant ones are sticky, of course, and the most pleasant ones (everything surrounding my wedding day, the tenth anniversary Disney extravaganza)  are cemented into my mind, but the general run of everyday events first blurs, then fades, until only a ghost remains. And yes, as I age it all fades faster. That's one of the reasons I have kept a diary for the better part of a quarter century, this Breadbin being  only the most recent incarnation.

I've been told I have a phenomenal memory. That's not really true. I have an excellent, near-eidetic memory for things I have read (although I've noticed even that shorts out on me unpredictably ever since the Internet came along)...but stuff I've experienced...not so much. Especially going back to childhood.

My mom kept a scrapbook, or rather, a series of them, noting and cataloguing every last detail of my early childhood. The level of detail might strike some people as odd (the first rock I ever picked up is in one of those books, and so is the first straw I ever used, and a lock from my first haircut, and what has to be every Christmas and birthday card I got over the first seven or so years of my life). I think because  my twin brother was lost so soon, and because I was touch-and-go myself for quite a while,  my mother wanted to preserve and treasure everything. I'm glad she did. Those scrapbooks are among my most prized possessions.

Looking back through them twigs some dusty, sepia-tinged  memories: camping at Oastler Lake Provincial Park, my first pet, Cyndy (the love for and from whom was unsurpassed among pets until Georgia-Peach came into my life); my persistent night terrors, so funny to my adult mind but almost paralyzing when I was three or four. (I was scared half to death of a clock, among a great many other things: it's a wonder I got any sleep at all.)

The thing I remember most about being a kid isn't a thing, exactly. It's a sense of freedom.

Most kids would say the same, I'm sure, but it's still a bit of a surprise to hear  me say it. I was a sheltered child by the standards of the time, and that was largely my own doing. Given a choice between going outside to play and finding a book to read in my room, the book won every time. But by the time I made double digits in age, my stepdad had come along and booted me outside for my own good. And once I was out there, I was well and truly out there. I rode all over London, from Byron to the east end. That carefree feeling of a day stretching out like warm toffee, adventure awaiting me around the next corner, and tomorrow was just the same, or maybe different, who knew? Intoxicating..

What's weird is that like every other kid I dreamed of growing up for the freedom I imagined was in it.  There's no freedom in being an adult. None. Oh, sure, you can have dessert first if you want -- hell, you have have nothing but dessert until your blood turns to fruit punch -- but as an adult you get straight-jacketed into a routine. The routine has its charms, don't get me wrong.  In fact, I'm apt to go off my kibble a little if it deviates too much, and how's that for conflicting desires? But as the saying goes, the problem with the rat race is that even if you win it, you're still a rat.

Remember not having a job...and that wasn't a bad thing? The novelty of doing things in exchange for money fades pretty quickly, in my experience. Even if the amount of money they give you keeps increasing. I get home from a hard day at work and it's all I can do to clean something, anything. And then on my days off...yeah, like I want to work then. I know I'm lazy as all hell, but I don't think it's just me.


I was asked what my most pleasant memory of childhood was. A bunch of answers came to mind almost instantly. Woolgathering among them, it occurred to me that not a single one of them was actually from childhood; the earliest was a trip to Venezuela with my dad and then-stepmother when I was fourteen. I fancied myself an adult at about age eight--and probably wasn't worthy of really being called one until my thirties (if I even can be now)...but let's face it, fourteen isn't really "childhood".

Further thought seemed called for. It's not as if my childhood was particularly horrible. I was very much loved, and spoiled rotten at times. School was an ordeal, to be sure, and I never did seem to stay in one place long enough to overcome the universally bad first impression I made of myself. Friends were few and far between until I hit the middle grades of high school, but the lack didn't register except in the vaguest sense. Yes, I was lonely, soul-crushingly lonely in fact, but I didn't have any other state to compare it to and thus didn't really know loneliness for what it was.

Even in third grade, replete with games of kissing tag and what seemed like popularity, my friends were emphatically school friends. I remember going over to Mark Stanski's house (and again, I still remember the friggin' address) and watching episodes of The Twilight Zone...but I don't think Mark ever came over to my house. My friend Gordon, the guy I shared that third grade harem with, actually did come to my house, once....the year after I moved to London. Grades four and five were a write off: I have a Facebook friend who went to school with me in those years and she remembers things I've apparently blocked out. In grade six I made a friend, somehow. Tim Gauld, his name was, and why he and I were friends was a mystery for the ages. He was my polar opposite in so many ways: he loved the outdoors, he was an avid birder (I simply could not care less about birds even now) and his parents kept his childhood busy. You name it, he was in it.

But we were friends, somehow, over a period of three or so years. So many memories there that just writing his name called forth. There was a sleepover that featured an apocalyptic raisin fight...we went through a huge bag of them, and they were still turning up months and even years later. There were snow forts, computer games galore, rotten apple fights at Cornell's Fruit Farm, our first job, endless summer days frolicking in his pool.

I bought my mom a cactus for Mother's Day one year, and Tim walked home with me that day. I dropped the thing (once a klutz, always a klutz) and he reached down and picked it the spines. After he had danced around and plucked out the prickles we continued on....about a block and a half later the potted cactus slithered out of my hands again and again Tim reached down unthinking and stabbed himself.

Yeah, maybe we did have some things in common, after all.

Another thing we had in common: piano. He was, like almost everybody else, much better at certain aspects of piano playing (namely, reading music) than I will ever be...he had his Conservatory grade ten, and it showed. I never got any further than grade five...but I played by ear and composed, which blew his mind. I remember he bought me the sheet music to took me months to learn.

Tim fell out of my life when I moved (again) and went to Oakridge S.S. for grade nine. He went to Saunders, not really all that far away but....friends drop in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant, in Stephen King's immortal words. I have no idea where Tim is today. But I owe him a lot. If he hadn't shown up in my world, who knows where and when the next friend would have come along...

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