memory lane

My First Memory

Five o’clock pm of July 26 was the time of my first breath in this world. It was 1991, and we were in northern Idaho. My first memories were not emblazoned upon my mind for years to come. We moved to the east coast when I was two years old, which didn’t leave much to remember of Idaho, and in the years since then I have many times wished to go back to see where it was I came from.

For many years I did not know that my earliest memory was a memory at all. In my mind it had registered as a dream, and it was only upon describing it to my father during college that I discovered it wasn’t a dream at all. My dad and I had been having a conversation about dreams, and I was telling him about the first dream I could ever recall, when he looked at me funny, and asked me to describe the setting of this dream in more detail.

I told him about how he and my mom and older brother and another man were standing outside at dusk. The sun had set and a dull dark blue had descended over the landscape, exaggerating shadows and making it difficult to see past your arms’ reach. There were trees around us where we stood on a long dirt driveway in the middle of nowhere. Behind us was a large barn and a small house, maybe a trailer. There were dog cages by the house, and beyond that there were fields full of hidden sink holes and quicksand. In front of us the driveway turned and continued for at least a mile before reaching the road. Both sides of the road were immediately shrouded in tall trees, and on one side, a few feet into these trees, the ground fell away in a steep drop of some forty feet.

I must have been just shy of two years old myself, toddling along and running away. My brother was four, and was the leader of our escapades. We didn’t want to get into the car, despite the growing darkness. Mom and dad stood talking with the other man, seemingly in deep discussion. As we’d walked through the forest earlier with my dad, he’d made strange noises when we got too far away to scare us into coming back to him for protection. To this day he tries to pull stunts like this, although now it’s somewhat less successful. At the time it really worked. We would come tripping back to him terrified and looking around for beasts in the woods.

We’d started to cop onto his antics shortly before our walk ended, and now we were sure that there was nothing in these woods to be really scared of – just our funny father’s outlandish sound effects. So, while the adults talked, my brother and I decided to take a little walk of our own through the trees at the edge of the driveway. We had been in the trees for some five minutes or so, wandering about, overturning rocks, tearing leaves off of low branches, and peeling bark off of dead trees. We were having a real time of it.

Then all of a sudden, from farther into the forest, we heard the most unthinkably horrid sound our young imaginations could fathom. A snorting, grunting, bark broke the silence ahead of us. We both froze. Looking at each other, we both quickly calculated what the possible origin of such an ungodly noise could be. We must have simultaneously remembered dad’s antics earlier in the day, because we both shrugged it off and continued about our business in the trees. He must have been trying to scare us into coming out of the trees so we could leave. But we weren’t paying any attention – we just wanted to play. A moment later, the sound was repeated, only this time it was much closer and much, much louder. We were terrified. Standing perfectly still again, we both looked at each other in surprise, while it dawned upon us for the first time that the sound was coming from the wrong direction to be our father standing out in the driveway. Before I could catch my brother’s eye to confirm my new conclusion – that there really was a beast among the trees – he took off running faster than I had ever seen him move, headed back toward the road.

I tell you, to this day, I have never seen my brother move with such swift grace. Not a branch cracked under his foot, not a leave stirred as he cut through the air. He was gone, and I was alone with the beast. Of course, I followed him as quickly as my stubby little legs could carry me, which wasn’t nearly fast enough. I ran like the fiery jaws of death were inches from my heels. I bumped into trees, tripped over logs, cut myself on rocks, but nothing was going to stop me. It seemed like minutes later that I reached the driveway, though it must have been mere seconds. I caught sight of the tail end of my brother as he clambered to open the back door and climb into the safety of the car. The look of confusion on my parents’ face as I launched out of the trees and followed Dominic into the car was only outdone by the look of amusement on my dad’s face when we told him there was a monster in the woods and it was chasing us. My mom characteristically ignored our explanation, merely glad that we’d gotten into the car without a fight. My parents said goodnight to their friend, and with Dominic’s and my faces plastered to the back window looking for the beast, we drove off into the night.

Me, very young.
My older brother, very young.

This story may sound laughably funny to you, and that’s how it sounds to me now too, but at the time, the level of fear and adrenaline were unparalleled in my life. I had just barely escaped the jaws of death – or more likely a wild boar, which was basically the same thing. Until I’d been in college and come home and talked with my dad, I hadn’t realized that this was more than a dream. My dad didn’t remember the details of the event of our fear and of our great and majestic escape from the beast, but as I described the landscape around us that night, my dad knew right where it was. I believe he said it was across the border in northern Washington at the home of a friend of my parent’s. I don’t quite recall. Regardless, that was my very first memory.

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