Small chubby legs bouncing to the beat, twirling around on cheap carpet. Giggles. Red lips on the tv screen singing words that make so much sense---
"girls—they wanna have funoh girls just wanna have fun"
That is the only really clear memory I have of being little—dancing along with Cyndi Lauper in her red dress while she sang Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. I loved it so much, in fact, that my dad must have bought the record, She’s So Unusual, for me. When I combed through his record collection after his death, there it was. It’s hanging on my bedroom wall in a hand-painted bright purple frame these days. That memory is one of very few that I have from my life before my parents divorced when I was around 12. Almost everything else is a blank. If it wasn’t for that scene that plays like its own music video in my head, I’d have nothing much except a handful of fuzzy glimpses of interacting with classmates and my parents fighting along with some clear snapshots of being hit, seeing my brother hit, or being called names. It’s no wonder I still cherish that song even now—it’s currently playing in the background and as always it gives me a little grin.
It’s the absolute best memory I have of little me.
When children live in high stress environments like ones where a parent is a mean son of a bitch with a drug problem and a hitting problem and a calling-his-children-fat-and-stupid problem, memory gets glitchy. In fact, the brain, my brain, can be permanently altered. Stress releases glucocorticoids in the brain. These are steroid hormones. The hippocampus which is responsible for memory processes contains quite a number of glucocorticoid receptors. Eventually, the hippocampus is permanently altered. It becomes smaller. Memory functions are impaired. There’s nothing repressed. Nothing hiding in a locked memory file somewhere waiting to pounce on me. Most of my childhood was simply never stored. That’s probably the best thing possible all things considered. I can’t imagine what a mess I would be if I actually remembered more of that life.
I used to be a bit envious of people I knew that could recall things from their childhood so clearly and with so much fondness. I’d wonder why everything was such a blank for me and why I couldn’t remember things that my mom or my brother would tell me about. “Do you remember that time…?” became a hated topic because, no, I don’t. I can’t. I felt like such a freak for it. Now, though, now I realize how much not remembering has helped me to be a person and a better mother. The few memories I do have created complexes and self doubts so strong that even now as a 32 year old woman, I sometimes cringe when I look in the mirror despite how much I have told myself that those things that were done and said to me were never my fault. I can’t shake those short bursts of shouts that echo in my head when I see my unclothed body or even when I’m fully dressed.
I imagine remembering more would have made life so unbearable that I might not have had the strength to make it to 32. The sadness that I feel now would surely be magnified to a weight that my poor shoulders, stout as they are, could not bear carrying it for even one more day. As it is, though, it is, thankfully, not more than I can take.
My environment may have led to permanent changes in my brain…the structure altered by too many fight or flight episodes…but it’s more of a blessing than a curse. The little me that lives in my head can continue dancing without a care to Cyndi Lauper free from the darkness that so often surrounded her life.
“I want to be the one to walk in the sun”