My memory has always been a point of pride. Well into my twenties, I could trace back through most of my childhood, not just the highlights but the little things; the mark my name tag made on my kindergarten jumper and the way the lilacs drooped from a neighbor's house on my walk to grade school. I never related to the flashbacks played out in movies, triggered by some song or smell and described in fragments. I had the whole picture, laid out in linear perfection.
Cut to a decade later, now with two children and many more milestones to file in my mental scrap book... and it is shocking how much of my own memories have slipped away. I just don't have the space or use for them, and when I see something in my kids that reminds me of my own youth, it is like that cinematic fractured flood of recognition that used to seem so foreign to me.
We spent the Thanksgiving break at my aunt and uncle's farm, where we are lucky enough to enjoy so many of our holidays amongst family. Now that we have two growing children (and no one wants to put up with us!), we have been happily relocated to a little cabin in the woods, an outpost of our very own. My aunt has made the place as cozy and magical as a dream. Little Smith went bananas over the bunk beds and we all agreed that we never wanted to leave.
This visit was layered for me, because back when this cabin veered less towards magazine ready and more towards rustic (complete with a pit toilet), it was where my father lived, and where I visited him often. The memories of my time there came rolling back; the wicker couch my dad hung from the beams that served as my bed, I would fall asleep swinging back and forth in front of the fire, soup from a can heated in the fireplace before there was a working kitchen, Christmas trees, cut fresh from the property, and dragged through the snow on a sled, then hung from the rafters instead of a stand... my presents were literally under the tree... so many amazing moments that I am grateful for to this day.
But with intense light, also comes darkness. In my experience, being in the orbit of a manic depressive (and I know the more correct term these days is Bipolar, but it never seems as accurate) means that life in general is lived out in extremes. At his best, my father has the talent, style, and charisma that draws delight from everyone and made me feel like a superstar by his side. At his worst, being around him was frightening; bed ridden depression, rage, and alcohol and drug addiction that eviscerated most of us who love him.
I have watched so many close friends and family squander their lives obsessing over the injustices of their childhoods, my own father included. I still don't know if my coping methods are healthy or veer towards denial, but somewhere along the way, I made the choice to carry forward all of the privileges of my upbringing, and push down the adversity. I have been unquestionably lucky in so many ways, and with limited space left in my brain for memories... I set those dark ones free to float adrift.