The context of these images come easier to me than it does for you, dear-reader. Unless you’re reading from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, but even then, you would wonder why the context of an image matters. First, Massachusetts, I miss you, but the star of this story is Memory and Place.
Second, I came to the United States at 6 years old. Many people remember being 6 years old, and others, 3 years old. I am not among many people.
I look over photo albums and I can point out to a baby Claudia or a toddler Claudia. For two reasons:
- There aren’t a crazy number of pictures of young Claudia. Photographs were expensive in 1994 El Salvador, especially if you were a 16 year old maid—as was the case with my Mama.
- I have been trained to recognize myself in photographs. Obviously, my mother would want me to know who’s who in a family album.
I have always relied on the stories my mother tells to make sense of that period in my life, my first childhood. There was too much going around me at the time for anything to sink in. Take for example, to this day, I cannot picture myself on September 11, 2001. The spring of last year, my art of autobiography professor gave us a prompt on memory. September 11 came up, including in my own journal entry. I shared with the class how I know what I’m supposed to remember, but I can’t remember those things…. things like scattered children, tv screens, and phone calls.
And that was only a memory from my first months in America. I cannot imagine my entire life in El Salvador. I’m serious. And yet, I would never ask for those memories back.
I’ve learned to be satisfied with what I do remember of my life. I cannot ask for more or less. It is what it is. I am not always this accepting when it comes to memory, I must say. I do know that it is important to accept the limits and oddities of a human brain.
My brain remembers backgrounds.
I close my eyes and it is a lonely playground I see. One yellow slide. Two yellow swings. In a rectangle in the middle of somewhere on a summer day. I then remember a poloriod photo: a tiny girl with a tiny blue dress on the one swingset, and a man who looks more boy than man. That’s me. That’s Daddy. When we, were still a family, though broken.
I once wrote a poem in which my words lied. (Okay, I’ve written several of those.) I once wrote a poem that implied I’ve never flown a kite because I thought I’d never flown a kite. I asked Mum and she corrected me with Don’t you remember? I wonder if those days I flew kites with my dad took place in the same lonely playground. I wonder how blue the sky was then, and if the kite out-shined that blue or a child’s laugh.
My mother says, my half-sister and I knew each other when we were younger. I bet I loved her with that child-like curiosity and self-righteous knowledge of toddler-hood. I know her through phone calls now. I don’t like those phone calls.
Through photo albums and phone calls, she has grown up. One phone call she sounded too much of a woman at 14. And it scares me, that miles away her world is different from my world, but it wasn’t always the case. When my baby brother was born, I was jealous of my then best friend, who was getting a baby sister. Even then, I couldn’t remember having held the hands of a baby sister.
Faces from those years have not stuck with me. Adobe bricks and scorching heat have. There are rows of cotton, a mothy white, stretching across the horizon, too. All these things I remember with foggy certainty. I was there. Somewhere.
I like places. I can remember places. Places do not change the way human babies do. Places do not name us friends and then call me stranger. Places do not hurt the way people do. Places stand long after they are destroyed. They live through photographs and videos, through memory and stories.
I love places. I am a point in space. I like that.