What I used to call my first memory was the time my sister and I (ages five and two) walked up the road to a gas station and bought a bottle of pop. I know it was a real memory, instead of something someone told me, because it had an inner dimension: I pretended the pop was beer and I was a man. Now I remember only the memory of that day.
So maybe my earliest memory was when we burned down the outhouse, a three-holer, while my mom, dad, and I were sitting there in a row, taking our last outdoor shit right inside the flames. But even though we did have a three-seater when we first moved to the farm, and though we did burn it down when my dad put in the indoor plumbing, I think I dreamed the incident before I was old enough to distinguish reality from vivid dreams.
So my earliest actual memory—not a dream, or a memory of a memory—is of my first day of school. We’d just moved to that school district. I didn’t know anybody; I was desperately afraid to go to school. When my mom left me there that day, I got confused about what was happening, and I ran after her. We talked for a while by the swings, and she said I had to stay. When I started out after her a second time, the teacher grabbed my arm to give my mom time to get away. I can still feel how tightly she held my arm; I don’t think I’d ever been gripped that tightly before. It so frightened me that it made me very strong, for I was able to wrench myself free from the woman’s grasp. I chased my mom down in the parking lot. When I got in the car, she spanked me and took me home.
Seven years later, when she was very sick and maybe dying, she asked me to forgive her for that day. She was a wee, skinny thing, weighing maybe eighty pounds. Of course I said I forgave her. But I don’t know if I really did until right this moment.