“Let’s remember this,” I said to my friend Michael as he plonked down next to me on the bench outside the school library.
“Huh?” he frowned and arranged his crutches on the cement floor, making sure he would be able to retrieve them without asking me to help. I didn’t know why Michael’s legs hung uselessly from his hips, with his feet turned out like a ballet dancer. It didn’t seem polite to ask.
“For when we grow up. Let’s remember this always.”
“I just want to.”
“Okay. What do we need to do?”
“Just close our eyes and say, we will remember this moment for all our lives – until the day we die. We will remember sitting on this bench outside the library. It’s 8.30 in the morning. Wednesday. It’s a warm, sunny day. I’m wearing –“
“It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing!”
“Yes it does. I’m wearing an Indian wrap skirt and wedge shoes with raffia ankle ties. Michael is wearing – ” I open my eyes and glance at Michael, pleased to see his eyes are closed. “A red and white striped T-shirt and jeans.”
“Is that all we have to do?”
“Yes. Now we’ll never forget this moment.”
I don’t remember what happened next. Maybe Michael and I swapped Trixie Beldon books. Perhaps we hurried into the library when it opened and grabbed the best comics. Or my best friend Andrea might have arrived to school early – a minor miracle – and we may have abandoned Michael to play on the monkey bars.
But I do remember that moment in 1978. I was ten years old and determined to remember sitting outside the library with my friend Michael. I wonder if he remembers?
My habit of snatching snippets of time and committing them to memory began when I was five. Late one night I left my bed and crept into the living room, where I turned on the television. The reception in our part of the world for the one television station we received was grainy and I couldn’t put the sound on.
I was thrilled to find a film. The scene showed a woman cutting up tomatoes in her kitchen. I stared at the screen, transfixed by a new idea. Time races by. One day I too would be a grown woman standing in her own kitchen, cutting tomatoes. My childhood would be as dust unless I took steps to remember it. I hoped my adult fate would be better than the tomato cutter’s. An intruder murdered her in the next scene, using her own tomato knife.
I closed my eyes and committed the moment to memory – I’m five years old. I am sitting on the sofa in our house. It’s night – time. One day I will be a grown up lady cutting up tomatoes in my own kitchen. When I am a grown up lady, I will remember being five.
I became aware of another, related idea. Life brings good and bad times. One day I am running after the ice cream truck with my sisters, joyfully clutching my 25 cents. The next day I am lying on my hospital bed, sick with hepatitis and hoping the nurse won’t discover I have thrown my uneaten dinner down the laundry chute. The ice cream is eaten, the hepatitis is cured and life rolls along for another 42 years.
A lot has happened, as it will. But I have never forgotten being five, when I imagined the years ahead and accepted they would fly past, bringing joy and sorrow in equal measure. I still have the habit of occasionally stopping whatever I am doing and deciding to remember a moment in time, in honor of the little five year old who didn’t want to be forgotten by whoever she became.
The photograph is me with my Great Grandmother in Fiji in 1970.