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My friend once told me about her earliest memory. She was sitting a highchair, she thought she was about 18 months old. She remembers babbling and understanding exactly what she was saying but no one around her understood her. My friend recounts this story often. She always seems happy and amused. It is clearly a good memory.

I don’t have any clear early childhood memories. Occasionally I will have flashes of things, long forgotten images or feelings. No clear story behind them. No context. Just milliseconds of old neurons firing. One of the earliest memories I have is a memory of memory. A photograph. In that photograph I am a baby. My mother is holding me. She is beautiful, very Jacquie Kennedy. She is wearing a green and gold miniskirt with matching boots. I am swaddled in a beautiful white blanket hanging artfully. My mother is smiling enigmatically, looking off camera. I imagine her smiling at someone complementing me, the new addition. She has a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail beside her on the table. There are people in the background with cigarettes and drinks. I imagine the 60’s music, the smoke, the vibrant conversation. I often tell people of that photograph with amusement. I was a child of the Sixties, born into the free love, social change era.

I found that photograph a few years ago. It is black and white. The vibrant colours were my creation. My mother is beautiful but the signs of the alcoholism that will plague the rest of her life are already there. Her skin looks sallow. The distant enigmatic look is a blankness that is one step away from drunkenness. This is confirmed by the table. There isn’t an elegant cocktail but rather several bottles of beer. I’m dressed in the ubiquitous terrycloth sleeper that were so common in the 60s and 70s. No elegant hand knitted blanket. No one is looking at me.

I looked for that picture today. I can’t find it. Did it exist? Was it a memory of a memory of a daydream?

Are memories truly factual recollections of past events or mental images created by the stories told to us? Stories told to us by family or friends, or ourselves, that we then form into mental fairy tales? If so, are they true? Probably true in the way so many fairy tales are, they teach us bigger lessons. My friends memory probably taught her she was intelligent and loved. She recounted it because reliving it brought back those feelings.

My memory? Is there a lesson? Likely a lesson I learned so well. What isn’t nice, we don’t talk about. If it isn’t nice, make something up.

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