Recently, my mother was discussing the immense trauma of a life changing event that occurred some 25 years ago. She asked me what I remembered. I imagine, so she could analyze the effect it had on my childhood, as she drowned in her thoughts of what could have been.
The truth is, I remember nothing. My only knowledge of the event are entwinements of things retold to me by others. While this may be good, it left me pondering the ability of forgetfulness. Or shall I say… selective memory.
I remember sitting in pre-school when I was 3 years old trying to convince the teacher that the yellow puddle beneath my chair was completely due to me spilling my cup of apple juice, which sat full on my desk in front of me. I remember the split second when I was 4, mom had turned her back after telling us girls to get out of Pop-pop’s pool. I was soaring through the air, anticipating the refreshing splash of water rushing around my body, complete terror paralyzing me as I realized I had already taken my life jacket off. I remember the following days as my older sister spent hours teaching me how to swim after rescuing me from my childish moment of rebellion and near drowning incident. I remember that this was the same sister that convinced me that there were sharks in Pop-pop’s 4 foot above ground swimming pool. In fact, she did such a great job convincing me that I still shiver every time a piece of seaweed grazes my feet. I remember when I was 6 and my beautiful long nails scratched a girl on the playground. She ran to the teacher saying I did it on purpose and I got into HUGE trouble! I remember being so angry that I wished I had scratched the little brat on purpose. I remember when I was 7 I could out-jump rope anybody that took me on.
But I don’t remember the years of time that mom spent her every waking moment fighting through the toughest recovery of her lifetime.
It all began on a warm summer day when I was about 5 years old. My oldest sister and I were staying at my great grandma’s house for the day. I remember my great grandma. She was Grandma K, and she let us eat cookies before lunch. This automatically entitled her coolest Grandma Ever Award!
Our middle sister (the shark terrorizer) was with mom that particular summer day at the local park we’d all been to a thousand times. Ms. Shark Terrorizer was playing some distance away while mom was kicked back on a blanket playing Rummy with another regular at the park.
Rummy was a long game. A game you packed up, just to pick up right where you left off on another day. The game had finally reached an end, Mom had won! She rolled over, flipping open a book to get lost in, when suddenly, she heard the heart wrenching screams of her daughter, striking a terror through her that only a mother knows. She jumped up on her hands, bringing one leg in close to her chest as she prepared to dart to her child with the swiftness and speed of an Olympic runner.
That’s the last thing mom remembers before she woke up in a hospital bed being told she would never walk again.
Mom later found out that the local park regular she had come to know through this long game of Rummy had dropped a cement filled picnic table on top of her. If it hadn’t been for Ms. Shark Terrorizer, the picnic table would have landed at the base of mom’s neck, instantly killing her.
Guess my big sister has a knack for saving people’s lives.
I remember Grandma and Pop-pop’s home and neighborhood as though it was my own childhood home, but I don’t remember that it WAS my childhood home. I remember the first time I learned to ride a bike without training wheels. Flying down those suburb streets, a new found freedom all my own. I remember the moment my aunt called out to me, “Look, you’re doing it, you’re on your own!” after miles of running along behind me holding onto the back of my bicycle seat.
I don’t remember that mom was confined to a hospital bed in Grandma and Pop-pop’s living room, unable to teach her youngest daughter how to ride a two-wheeled bike.
I remember being told of the heartbreaking words I angrily screamed at mom, outraged that she no longer loved me because she wouldn’t play with me on the playground anymore. My young mind unable to grasp the concept that she couldn’t even walk, let alone play. But I don’t remember that day, I don’t remember that anger, I don’t remember those words. I don’t remember mom being crippled at all.
I remember fishing in the massive river that ran through that local park. Creating fishing poles out of bamboo sticks. Mom was inventive like that. For hours I would sit perched on the edge of a large concrete block on the river bank pulling up one sun fish after another. I remember the day I caught a cat fish on that bamboo fishing pole of mine. Lord, was that the ugliest thing my childhood eyes had seen!
Mom fought for years after ‘The Incident’ to regain the ability to walk again, to work, to be independent. She had three little girls to take care of, leaving her no choice but to get back on her feet, literally. I don’t remember mom’s struggle, but I sure do remember her strength.
Mom’s strength is like none other I’ve ever witnessed. Mom’s strength overcame so many struggles that the ugly world threw at her. I remember some of the bad times, there were enough of them that it seems impossible for one to forget them all. But the memories are recorded as though I was witnessing a train wreck… someone else’s train wreck. The horrible plot twists that belong to someone else’s movie. They aren’t my own.
Mom not only physically overcame this life changing event, but she continued on to let go of the injustice around this man who changed her life never serving legitimate jail time for the crime he committed, to an eventual spot of understanding that this incident was merely a sad consequence of a traumatized veteran that never received the proper mental health treatment he so desperately needed. An understanding that takes a massive amount of compassion, and strength, to reach.
The large chunks of my childhood that appear to have been permanently deleted from the memory storages of my brain still perplex me at times. But I don’t dwell on this much anymore. I relish in the memories of Ms. Shark Terrorizer teaching me how to swim, mom’s giggles as I screamed at the face of my first catfish, Grandma K’s awesome cookies before lunch, my aunts enthusiastic cheers as I captured my first taste of freedom… but mostly, I relish in the everlasting memories of mom’s strength.
A strength so strong that she was able to take a horribly tragic, life changing event of my childhood and turn it into an amazing character trait of strength and courage that will live on through many generations to come.
So what do I remember about ‘The Incident’ of nearly 25 years ago? Thanks to Super Mom… nothing at all….