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哭一篇:My First Memory

(2013-04-28 21:09:50) 下一个



The following was written on Sunday, November 27, 2011

My earliest memory in life is an image, a clear image against a blurry background. In the image, my mom was lying on a stretcher, howling and alternating between consciousness and constant fainting. I was two and half years old. Because the level of my eyesight, I saw the small of my mom's back, exposed between her shirt and her pants. Someone, probably my aunt, was holding my right hand. That was my father's funeral in the October of 1976 in a small town in Shandong, China. There was more crying accompanying my mom's. In the background, there were paper flowers, the scent of paper-burning, and some occasional smell of burnt food that was put into the fire for sacrifice. This image, with the added information about the background, is the earliest memory of me that has haunted me all through my life. The image got reinforced a little bit every year when I went to the cemetery on the same day of the year until I was 17 when I left home for college.

It is ironic that for an essay about my father, I started with the loss of him. But this is the cruel truth that by the time my memory started, my father was no longer a figure to be in the memory. He had become a memory. Every year from then on, going to the cemetery to mourn him on his anniversary, for me, was to mourn that memory.

From this afternoon:

Sometimes, looking at my kids, I wonder how much of the present will stay with them, as part of their memories. What would be their earliest memory? For Liya, would it be her first ER experience? Or would it be the time when my husband and I had a big fight, I ran out of the house crying and left the three of them sleeping in the same bed? Or would it be a happy memory of her second or third birthday party? If she remembers them all, it probably wouldn't be very clear to her which one is the earliest, as memories tend to blend together. Even for me now, I couldn't recall the exact sequence of these events.

My memory started, however, undoubtedly on that October day in 1976. It was a very clear scene that has come back and haunted me for the past 30+ years. At different points of my life, it would jump up to the front of my eyes, as if being shifted from the back of my head through some sorting or searching. I had thought about writing this down many times, but didn't feel the urgency until recently this scene came back to me, once when I was running on the treadmill and the other time while I was driving my kids to the beach, leaving my face covered with tears.

I was about two and half years old on that October day. In the scene, my mom was lying on her back in a stretcher. She was crying and had passed out. I was crying. Through my teary eyes, I saw a strip of my mom's waist, her flesh exposed between her blouse and her pants. It was outside. I was surrounded by the scent of burning papers and other funeral stuff. Someone (it must have been my mom's older sister, who by then had had seven kids) was holding my right hand.

I guess it wasn't the scene that hurt so much, but what had happened afterwards as a consequence of that scene. That scene was my memory of my father's funeral. Afterwards, he disappeared. Mom said he went to a conference in Jinan. Mom took up smoking, which she quit two or three years later. In the afternoons, Mom would sing and weep, not exactly sing, which was more like humming with some occasional words like "my dearest has left me, how am I going to live". Hating to see her sad, I would ask her to stop. Over the years in my life, I have cried several times listening to songs, but when I look back, God, what my mom was humming at that time got to be the saddest of all. Maybe that's why I asked her to stop.

People say, in a relationship, it takes about half the time you spend with that person to get over him. I earnestly doubt this theory. My mom was married to my father for 12 years. According to this theory, she should have been able to get over him in 6 years, but she never remarried and she still talks about him nowadays. I spent about two and half years with my father. The first year after his death was only the start for the loss to sink in. It would probably take my whole lifetime (which is likely to be longer than my father's) to get over the loss. How do you decide that you have got over someone anyway? How could you ever get over the loss of a parent? I remember I cried so heartbrokenly when I saw in the dictionary the explanation of “孤儿” as in 孤儿寡母 was different from what I had thought. In the somewhat sexist Chinese language, an orphan is someone who has lost his father, not someone who has lost both parents. I was crying because I realized I was not just fatherless, I was a 孤儿! I was esp. reminded of my father at these occasions:

My mom said the summer of the year 1974 was very hot. I wasn't colic but I was crying a lot, probably because of the heat. One time I was crying so hard that my father got frustrated and said, because of this daughter, I would live 10 years less. My mom told me this. I remember on the day of my father's 10-year-anniversary, when I was 12, I thought, if I hadn't been born, today would have been my father's last day.

Because of this, I was never a daddy's little girl. I was more like a mommy's boy. My mom often said: you are all I have and all my hopes are on you. Talk about pressure! What she didn't know was that her high hopes for me actually would drive me away from her, to Jinan first, then Beijing and then LA. 很难过,先写到这里吧。

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