“Late one night when the moon was green,
A tomcat sat on the sewing machine
The sewing machine began to hum
And sewed ten stitches in the tomcat’s…BELLY BUTTON!
My grandfather, Tim, died when I was just three years old. By then, he was legally blind. I would sit on his knee and because he couldn’t see to read books, he would make up stories to tell me. Apparently they were pretty funny.
But I don’t remember them. Not really. When I think about my earliest memory, I think of Tim. I picture myself sitting on his knee but as I have gotten older, I suspect what I’m ‘remembering’ has been woven together by stories I’ve been told and photos I have seen. There are no other pieces of the memory – the sound of his voice, if he smelled of soap or hair pomade – to make me believe the memory truly belongs to me rather than having been placed there over time.
Either way, it is all I have of my grandfather and so I find comfort in remembering.
Other memories are clearer, some intensely so.
Summers that seemed to last forever. The smell of the coconut oil my mum would slather herself in as her skin turned golden brown. Our heavy curtains drawn against the scorching hot days, sitting inside the cool house watching the Australian Open. Lendl was almost certainly playing. My dad at the barbeque. Lamb chops with iceberg lettuce salad. I always picked the tomatoes out.
A recurring bad dream. Someone is coming down the hallway to my bedroom. The footsteps are pounding in my ears. They are rhythmic, getting quicker now. And then I am awake, my heart is racing and I lie in quiet terror until I summon the courage to run to the other end of the house, to the safety of my parent’s bedroom.
Only years later do I realise the sound of the footsteps was actually my heart, that awful whooshing sound of panic in my ears.
I remember being so loved. I remember being so naughty. I remember dreaming of my young, glamorous birth mother.
As it turned out, that goddess in the bathroom mirror, the one whose flowing dressing gown I would hover beside as she applied her make-up, the one who smelt of powder and Arpege, the one I called Mum, she was the most beautiful woman I would ever know.
I won’t forget that.