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Memory is a Strange Thing

Memory is a strange thing.

When I was 5 years old, I had surgery on the muscles behind my eyes. All I remember from the day before the surgery was that Luis from Sesame Street (actor Emilio Delgado) was visiting the children’s hospital where I had been admitted, and that he came to my bedside to meet me.

I remember the shirt he wore, a rugby-style, with navy blue and red stripes. I can’t remember anything else about that time--not my family members, not what my room looked like, nothing.

For three days after the surgery, I had patches taped over my eyes. At some point, either right after the patches were removed from my eyes, or right before, my father took me outside to a playground on the hospital campus. I remember being on a swing, and I remember that it seemed extremely bright outside. I remember the feeling of tilting my face upward toward the sun as the swing arced high into the air, and the accompanying feeling of weightlessness and joy. I felt like I was absorbing the sun and the sky.

What I don’t remember is whether I actually saw the brilliant blue of the sky that day, or if I just felt the sun on my face. Did I have the patches on my eyes still, or had they just been removed? Both options feel as if they have equal potential to be real.

So many memories of my childhood are like that--a few very specific details in snapshot form, mixed with a frustratingly vague jumble of possibilities. It bothers me that my memory feels so unreliable. And yet, I can say with certainty that I was on that swing that day, and I can describe the feel of the sun on my face. When I close my eyes and concentrate on the memory, I can feel an echo of it.

I had a traumatic childhood where I was told constantly that what was happening to me wasn’t wrong, or that it was my fault, or, later, that it hadn’t really happened. I was taught to not trust my reality, to not trust myself.

But memory is a strange thing. It has a way of writing itself into the core of your being, whether you trust it or not. It throws away some things and keeps others. It waits until you’re ready, until you can turn toward it and begin to embrace the truth and wisdom it offers. And when you listen, it’s like a song you haven’t heard in twenty years but suddenly realize you remember all the words.

I am learning to trust that tiny piece of certainty within me. To honor the memories of that little girl on the swing and to tell her I believe her. I am learning to trust my gut.

Jen Casselberry is a painter, sculptor, and mixed media artist living in the Chicago area. Through visual art and writing, her work explores themes of power, vulnerability, beauty, and violence. Her work can be found at:

1 commentaire

what an amazing memory! Thank you for sharing this little bit of sunshine. I have a memory from childhood of snow in Mississippi that I treasure. The snowman we built was so huge! Snow is magical and transformative. It is unique, yet the same. Kind of like us, don't you think!

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