When thinking back to my earliest memories, nothing is concrete. A string of hazy images come to mind like random snapshots out of time, each one associated with certain feelings and emotions. They are imbued with a mystical dreamlike quality, a gift born of childhood naivety. The magic of every Christmas when Santa was still real, for example, is an experience of pure joy that is lost with maturity.
Many of these snapshots are impossible to place in any sort of context. They’re just…there, sunken in the crevices of the brain without rhyme or reason: playing with my dad’s beard in a wood-paneled room, him smiling down at me – comforting. Or discovering a long row of marching ants in someone’s wooded backyard, all by myself – exciting. Some of them don’t even seem real in hindsight. Did I actually fall from that tree by the lake, only to land on my feet without a scratch? Was it really a dream?
I don’t think so. Sure, I have memories of distant dreams, but there is a clear distinction between the dreams and reality of my past. I don’t know how I can tell, I just can. And for this reason one memory has always troubled me. The experience was so surreal, and yet certain details stand out with marked clarity.
I’m not exactly sure when it happened. I couldn’t have been older than five or six. My brother and I were sleeping in our bunk bed. Because he was older, he got the top bunk. I had just woken up, but it was still nighttime. Something felt different. I remember seeing and smelling the rain, but not hearing any. The window was open and it was very cold in the room. Why was the window open? The curtains were gently flapping but there was no breeze. The quiet was so intense it buzzed through my ears. I’d been lying on my side, with one arm dangling off the edge of the bed. Gradually I became aware that it was warmer near the floor. I felt some kind of heated breeze gently strike my hand, coming and going in short bursts. Finally I recognized it as someone’s breathing.
Then the woman slid out from under my bed. The nightlight showed that she had long blondish hair and wore a white nightgown, and in the dimness I thought it was my mother. I wasn’t at all scared. It’s funny how a child’s mind works. [i]What’s mommy doing under the bed? Must be getting something, or checking for monsters.[/i] I was too tired to say anything and remained motionless, watching. The woman was on her back, but her face stayed in the shadows. She rolled over and crawled on all fours to the far end of the bed, then glided up the ladder to the top bunk. Her every movement was silky smooth and completely silent. She reminded me of a white ribbon dancing in the wind. I closed my eyes and fell back to sleep.
I also remember my brother telling me about a weird dream the next morning. He’d dreamt of a woman who lived “under the floor” and came out at night to play in the rain. When her clothes got soaked, she went back inside and would whisper things to anyone who was sleeping. It became a recurring dream for him until our family moved out of that house.
Strange, what the brain chooses to remember.