What do we remember? Why do we remember it? And how real is what we remember?

These are just some of the questions that come up when I start trying to “remember” my childhood. My earliest memories are nothing more than snapshots or maybe short videos. The experience of an observer rather than participant.

Then we moved to Cuba. These memories were like those of high school or college. I couldn’t tell you what happened every single day but they form an integral part of my current consciousness.

Even so, I am chagrined to realize I can’t think of one ‘friend’ from Cuba. I remember Maria who conspired with me to make my favorite cubed steak, black beans and rice when my parents were out. I remember our dog escaping the house and running down the two blocks to my school. I can still hear her jangling tags in the hallway and feel myself cringe in embarrassment as she bound into the room (the doors were left open to allow for cross ventilation) and down the aisle to plop herself proudly at my feet. I remember when Castro reached Havana. I remember visiting the Hershey cocoa farm. I remember some of my likes (horses) and dislikes (practicing piano). I remember being me.

From Cuba on my memories become richer, more complex, more complete. I remember people, places, events,

There is, however, another ‘memory’ from my early life. When I was in my 30’s, my father dragged out old home movies. I watched as jerky images with no sound or color chronicled my life from infancy onward. We were just about through our stay in Guatemala (ages three through five) when there I was smiling happily into the camera holding a doll. I was sitting on the deck of the freighter that we were taking to move back to the U.S. I laughed as my mother remembered that the Guatemalan jacket I was wearing was a match for ones she and my father both had which I later ‘stole’. Suddenly I was overcome with the darkest, deepest despair I have ever experienced. A voice in my head said “That girl is so-o unhappy.” It took me a minute or two to come back to what was happening around me. I had no idea what to make of what had happened, but the sense of great sadness persisted.

Was this a memory? I honestly don’t ‘remember’ being on the boat. I don’t even remember Guatemala. But I feel this was a true recollection of something that I did experience. And I still grieve for that smiling child who was me yet oddly not me.