Friday, August 27, 2010

Excavating Memory

I must have been 8 or 9, on that day. I couldn’t go to school. Mom and Dad both worked. After taking the IV needle out of my wrist, Mom, a nurse herself, must have felt it was okay to leave me home alone. We lived in a village, the seat of a commune. Crime was rare. Judging by my memory of the sun, it could well have been late spring.  I’m pretty sure that I had a quilt over me. The lining may even have smelled Lysol, which, having limited means to hygiene, Mom used in washings to disinfect linens.

I lay in bed, feeling well enough to survey the surroundings with my eyes. Even at a time and place as primitive as the rural commune in a remote northern Chinese province, I had an acute awareness that it was unusually quiet, as if I could hear the air moving and the day rotating silently. The sun came in a window either across or above where I lay, steadily dialing across a wall, white-washed now turned-ivory yellow. It was a light white and broad with a suddenness of a flood but did not dazzle. In fact, the wall seemed to have so totally absorbed the sun's brightness it let on no reflection or sheen. Unprompted, I had the startled realization that the unusual silence had its origin in the sun’s generosity. No color or sound stands out in my remembrance, just a salient and unmistakable awakening rising from a murky child consciousness: if this moment could stop and stand still, I would be happy forever.

If my memories are not faulty, intentionally or not, it was the same day (I’m certain that same week, or whatever duration of a period) when a skeleton-like stray kitten appeared through the window and made herself at home on a plate of scrambled eggs Mom had left me (back then, eggs were equivalent to chicken soup for the sickly.Chicken, or, eggs? Go figure.), and feasted to the satiety of her emaciated little body. The cat stayed on, got fat on pig lungs and livers and eventually laid many a litter of kittens over the years until we got ready to bid farewell to the commune in search of a city life where Dad thought I and little sister would get a better chance at education. It didn’t want anything to do with the uprooting move. A chapter of my life had gone hidden with her shadowy protesting withdrawal.

I never had the tool, or word, to unwrap what had happened to me on that day, or what I had awakened to. I often try to reproduce the memory, that sun, that wall, the silent dialing of one across the other...It has always been ghostly but the feeling of happiness is always more real than anything else I remember growing up.


  1. Beautiful paintings, beautiful stories! Your drive-by sounds like something I would write.

    Encore, encore! :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.