Traveling has always occupied a huge part of my life. Not necessarily exotic, but not stoic either. I want to move, see, explore, study other locales and people. I fantasize about the time my kids are both off to college and my husband and I take off on continuous travel, with no home base, just traveling everywhere we want to visit before our time here is up. I’m not worried about missing my home base; I’ve never gotten entirely attached. I guess that’s what happens when you’re plucked up from the first home you know. I didn’t think my immigration had any impact on my psychosis, but upon self-analysis, I wonder.
As an immigrant, it’s been easy to jump around, apartment to apartment, city to city because nothing truly feels like my birth city, which is ironic since I have zero memories of the place I left when I was four years old. My husband can recall entire afternoons from when he was three and I can’t remember the first four years of my life.
It didn’t get any better when I got to America. I remember my life as snapshots, kind of like the new iPhone’s still/moving image that comes to life for three seconds when you tap it. I’m grateful for these photos of me labeled “Early America – 1979 – 1985.” As I peruse my history, I think these are the moments my parents felt were worthy of immortalizing. I long for the days in between, like the pictures we take today; on the way to school, on a random afternoon stroll, swimming in the pool. I have no memory of these mundane rituals – nor can I remember most teachers or classmates. Entire school years evaporated from memory.
My more vivid memories start at age 12 when I moved to Staten Island. Somehow those times trumped the ones of my life in Queens, which must have trumped the first memories I made in Kiev. I have a pattern of Control+Alt+Deleting my life and consequently forgetting and burning old memories with new ones.
While many of the memories of my first two decades seem hazy, the ones which do pierce through the fog are the tragedies. The memory of my three-year-old sister falling and “cracking her head” while on my watch trumps the memory of a mundane afternoon of watching Three’s Company on our beige corduroy couch.
My husband taunts me with the superhuman way he can remember details from his childhood and intricately describe friends from preschool. He can dictate verbatim, his house when he was five years old, including the stuffed animals on his bed, the design on the bedspread, the patterned wallpaper, and the color of the yarn in the carpet.
Marilu Henner, another woman of whom I am in awe, can remember every single day of her life, by date, and tell you what she wore and what she ate. The science of memory and the human brain fascinates me and I want to believe my husband when he insists: “it’s all in there; every single day of your life is cataloged up there and if you want to, you can access it.”
Only I think I’m missing some special passcode or something.
If they are hidden deep within my cranial storage facility, what is the trigger to set them free? Where are all those days from grade school? What was the name of my 5th-grade teacher? When did I go to that trip to the United Nations when I bought a flag of the USA on a stick? I wasn’t abused; I didn’t withstand any physical trauma. I was well loved and cared for; I was just an immigrant kid assimilating her way into a new culture and country. It’s a familiar story repeated over and over through the ages; this was just my version of the journey.
As I write every day, I am pressing myself to retrieve these memories, to face demons if they arise, and mostly to revisit the moments which brought me here.