My earliest memory seems less of a memory now than a caption to go with a photo. But once, I clearly remember, remembering a time. A time in childhood when memories were crisp and clear at the edges, unlike adulthood where they became fuzzy with time and alcohol, blurred by experience and fantasy. I remember, remembering when my brain activated my pudgy legs to kick at a beach-ball. It was a colourful inflatable one, with the different hues radiating from the centre. We were on a beach near Blackpool and the sand was a deep dark beige, unlike the white sands of Australia. I would have been about 12 moths old.
Beach memories are the clearest. The long, long walks to the water’s edge that seemed to go on until the horizon. The piles of worm buildings dotted along, where I tried not to put my feet, feeling a mix of disgust and intrigue at the curly whirly mountains of sausage sand.
The donkey rides I was too afraid of, yet my sister, a whole two years younger, gladly boarded them. A fearless trekker in the dessert sands. But I was only able to mount the carousel of lifeless horses, content with these gaudy painted shells, that did not smell, or snort or warm my thighs or pulsate beneath my legs. Too afraid of their life force, their misery, existing as a tourist trap along the piers.
My sister loved the beach. Stripping herself naked, as a toddler, she would arrive, strip and head for the water, much to the amusement of my parents. As the youngest she caught the attention of the cute and wan, and so jealous was I, but just could not bring myself t0 strip, a prude at four years old. Content to make sand castles and compete for my mothers attention in the sea, hanging onto her hands for dear life as the waves rolled in. I was sure I would drown but would not leave until she swept me up in her arms and carried me towards the spot where my father lay, improving his tan with coconut oil.
In the sea we would wait for the scary waves that seemed to tower above me and mum would lift me effortlessly buoyed by salt water and we would make it over the crest. I was buoyed by the safety and excited by the risk as each wave tumbled past and blessed us with the absence of foam, just a rolling behemoth of water. My mother in fashionable bathing suit would wait and then lift us with the wave. I remember looking down at the top of her thigh where her legs met her groin and her bathing suit began. A few, short coarse, dark hairs protruded and I asked what they were. “Hair” she said, incredulous that I would ask, and could not know such a natural detail. But when I looked down, I had none, I was different, separate from her. I longed with an ache to be the same, connected to her forever and I prayed for hair.
The strangest things matter before you have lived and after, not enough matters and too few of our memories remain.