WHY LIFE SPEEDS UP... is a collection of essays on the theme of memory. One essay was on a study of people's earliest memories. Usually people have these around the age three, although for some people they are earlier or later, and usually they involve something startling - starting nursery school for instance. My earliest memory was from the age of three (so I am disappointingly average) and it is this:
Somehow, when I was playing with my bricks, I fell and cut my lip badly and had to be taken to hospital to have stitches. The strange thing is I can't remember the moment of injury but I do have a memory of the scene immediately afterwards. It comes as a single snapshot of a street. It is as if everything is silent even though I know that it couldn't have been. I see a pale panorama of distant houses and a white sky and I have a very vague recollection of people. I know they are there but I'm not really noticing them. My clearest memory is that of the wing of a light blue and white car - which must have been a neighbour's because I am not sure that my parents had one - and I have an idea that I am being held in someone's arms and wrapped in a blanket. The strangest thing about this memory is that everything seems washed out and almost colourless...and the silence. Sometimes it seems close to a dream.
According to Draaisma's essay, people sometimes see themselves in their memories. They stand apart as if they are looking at the child that was them. But I am there in this scene looking at the car, and it is this that is interesting me. I expect I am frightened (probably by my mother's reaction) and my mouth must be hurting but I don't remember either of these things. I am fascinated by the prospect of a journey in my neighbour's car and I have the vaguest memory of feeling cold.
But how much of this is true? Sometimes I wonder if this is really a memory or something partly invented because I have often returned to it in my mind. It is 'my earliest memory' and consequently I cherish it and revisit it - perhaps too much.