By: Grace Hamilton
Memories are mysterious, sneaky, and sometimes uncontrollable. The things that our brains choose to remember, and the things that it omits, are telling. Why do I remember the smell of Silly Puddy, or fishing for my bottle in the kitchen, and yet I cant remember the quadratic formula?
Memories from childhood are particularly curious. Some things stand out in my mind with a clarity and sharpness that even some of my previous week’s experiences do not have. Lots of these memories, I have found after consideration, are memories of fear.
One of my earliest memories of feeling absolute panic and fear was when I was four years old. My dad worked from home and I usually woke up to find him in his office down the hall, or my mom still upstairs getting ready. This morning was beautiful, and my corner home was bright with streaming sunlight. The sheer yellow curtains fluttered in the wind and it smelt like fall outside.
My mom was not upstairs when I left the room. She has left for work, I thought. I groggily made my way down the stairs with childlike messy steps to my Dad’s office. He was not there either. My babysitter would not arrive until later in the afternoon. I called her name anyway.
“Joanne!” I yelled. No response. “Dad!” I yelled. No response.
I walked back to his study to look again, but as I expected, he was nowhere in sight. A feeling of panic began to build up in my chest. I am not sure I had remembered being alone in the house before. I ran upstairs, checked the bathroom. I checked my own room again. I was frantic.
After searching the house for another five minutes, running to and fro, the bad thoughts entered my head of what had happened to everyone, and what would happen to me, now abandoned.
I ran out of the apartment in sobs. I pounded on the neighbor’s door below, but no one answered. I ran down another flight and did the same.
“Help me! I’m alone!” I yelled through tears and heavy breaths.
I pictured myself being put in an orphanage, never to see my family again. Of course, to anyone reading this now, including myself as I put it in writing, nothing could seem more absurd. 15 minutes alone in my own home and I thought I was the only person left in the world. Still, the feeling could not have been more real.
After several more minutes of running through the hallways of my four-story brownstone, with no responses from any of the doors, my dad strolled through the front door with a coffee in hand. As you might expect, he was bemused to find me in tears in the hallway. I explained what had been my paranoid thinking, and he carried me back in his arms to be cradled and rocked for some time on the couch.
The reason this comes to me with such clarity, from the smell of the air to the feeling of the door under my pounding fist, is because I was afraid, I was threatened. When humans are threatened and afraid, and we are able to survive our fear, a part of us is conditioned to remember the trigger and store it should the same situation arise again, calling back to the front of our mind the tools we used to overcome it. In this way, we cannot escape them.