First Memory

I’m either two and a half or three and a half years old. It’s my brother’s birthday, or, more likely, the day after. I’m alone, for the moment, in the living room. (My parents and brother are elsewhere in the house.) I’m holding the object of my desire: a small, slightly puckered red balloon. A birthday accoutrement for my brother. It’s so lightweight. When tossed it floats hypnotically through the air like a magical orb. I want it for my own. But I’ve already been told it belongs to my brother.

Gripping the wrinkled object in my covetous fist, I know that it will never be mine. In the living room with me is a piece of furniture that has long captured my imagination, owing to its particular arrangement. It’s a solid wooden record player stand placed at a diagonal to the corner. Behind it is empty space, a dark triangular chasm. An indistinct version of the thought, “If I can’t have it, neither can he,” flashes through my mind. Quickly, before anyone enters the room, I toss the balloon over the record player and into the abyss where it will never be seen again.

First memories are interesting things, borne from strong impressions amongst the humdrum of the everyday. In my case, it came from shame. Or guilt. From a selfish act in opposition to my budding conscience. For others, the first memory is formed in a moment of excitement. Or terror, like for my friend when his parents approached him with a pair of scissors to extricate his finger from a knot of hair on his head. Or during an instant of intense curiosity, like the person I heard about whose first memory centered around the realization that a coffee percolator had nine separate parts.

With a first memory, our collecting of the salient moments of our lives has begun.

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