It’s difficult to follow up Erin’s revelation of the LCI, especially because it’s a completely new tale to me. When she says she’s never revealed it before, she must not be exaggerating. I’m certain that if this tale had been tellable, I would have heard it by now.
That’s one of the things that we’re learning about our memories in doing this project. When I started out, I thought we would find that our recollections of different incidents varied wildly, that we would be hit over the head with the faultiness of human recollection and the power of storytelling. Instead, I’m finding that in most circumstances we shared a single brain – so much so that Erin is certain she was present during the Bathroom Stall Incident, even as I’m certain that Alex was the one hiding with me. * So when something happened to her that I don’t remember, I’m taken aback a little – as though a part of my brain were missing. Something about storytelling in childhood must be very different than it is after the age of official adulthood. When two children share stories, they’re sharing experiences. When the first girl you know gets her period, everyone learns about periods. She’s the only one with literal cramps, but all of you feel like you’ve moved on to a new stage of life.
A minor example: At a certain point in her life, Erin was deemed old enough to watch out for her younger brother for a few hours when her parents would run to the store or to other magical lands that adults visit. During one of these afternoons alone, the two of them decided to “make a cake.” To them, this meant coating slices of Bunny Bread in sugar and Hershey’s syrup, then stacking them to create a fancy layered effect. There might also have been some “baking” involved. And a microwave explosion.
I have told this story to people at least four times in my life as though it were my own, as though I were there in the kitchen with them. I even picture myself standing on a chair in their kitchen, holding the bottle of chocolate gooiness over the bread tower and squeezing. I know that I wasn’t there. But I can taste the sticky syrup and the soggy bread. And, more importantly, this story can be used to represent things about my own life – ideas that I’m certain I had, goofy things that I’m certain I did but that I can’t remember as vividly as I remember the Bread Cake Story. So it becomes mine somehow, just like the Bathroom Stall Incident became a part of Erin’s repertoire.
This doesn’t happen so much for adults, who seem better able to draw boundaries around themselves, to separate out their own lives from those of the people surrounding them. When you get older, your stories become your sole property. And you tell them less often.
At least, I imagine that’s true for normal adults. I’m not so sure it is for me, and that may be part of what draws me to this project.
Another thing about childhood stories is that kids will repeat tales to the people who were actually there. They do this all the time. Just listen to a group of middle school girls sitting around a lunch table on the Monday after a sleepover weekend. One will inevitably start laughing about something that happened. She will point to another of the girls and say, “It was so awesome! You were like, ‘I hate Morgan’ and then she walked right into the room!” Or something to that effect. Kids do this constantly – tell each other what they already all know. Maybe it has something to do with the magic of language that both of us have referenced. When we’re young, we’re still playing around with the idea that there’s a difference between story and lived event. We try it out, learn that by recounting an incident we can highlight different parts, make ourselves the hero, the villain, or the butt of the joke.
We’re hoping to have some other friends join the blog soon, and I’m hoping that their presence will point to another fascinating aspect of childhood – the fairly limited quality of a kid’s world. Children are known for their imaginations and their fairly loose grip on reality. But what we forget about them is how small their physical worlds are. While they might be able to imagine fortresses and castles and alternate Unicorn realms, it’s very difficult for them to comprehend what the life of another regular person in the world might be like. I might have dreamed about what it would be like to be an astronaut, but I never thought about what it was like to be my neighbor down the street. Inside the tiny world of our Unnamed Religious Private School, Erin and I knew a limited cast of characters with a fairly small set of experiences. But across the city, our friend Cori, for example, was a Southern Jewish girl attending a fairly liberal public institution. We learned about the Devil’s birthday and sang songs about Jesus. Cori probably learned about things like cultural diversity or foreign countries. She didn’t learn anything that involved Jesus, I bet. Her life was foreign to us, since neither of us knew her until later in life. We literally could not have imagined what it was like to be her, just as she couldn’t have imagined the sorts of things we considered everyday activities.
I’m planning to follow this up with a regular post in our standard storytelling format, but before I could move on to the next topic I thought I needed this little segue. The academic in me just can’t help but think I’m learning something here. But if you’re bored with this theorizing, I promise the next post holds much more entertainment, in the person of kids dressed up as angels and lambs, ladybugs and fireflies…
And also, for all of you who have stumbled across this blog accidentally via our sexually explicit-ish tags, I promise more stories about breasts in your future.
*Erin: for the record, there are two reasons I’m sure about this. One is that I distinctly remember the 5th grader asking whether “that tall girl” and I were lesbians. I can’t think that this could’ve referenced anyone but Alex. But I also have this distinct feeling that the person in the stall with me was angry or upset with me for somehow causing the whole thing. I have the sense that she “knew better” somehow – and I can’t help but think that you would’ve been just as baffled as I was about why this stall sharing was inappropriate. Also, at the time Alex and I didn’t know each other all that well, so her frustration with me seems more natural. But maybe I’m wrong… Do you still keep in touch with her? We should ask her. Maybe she would like to write too!