The Earliest Memory is Probably When I Was Four...

March 29, 2008
By Kimberley Mendez, Ellenwood, GA

My earliest memory is probably when I was four, maybe five years old. All my other memories of this time are vague, blurry, and unclear but this memory is distinct. I can remember the exact taste and smell of every surface in the houses. I sat cross-legged on a brown shag rug and watched the hypnotic orange and blue flames of the fire perform their strange dances before my curious eyes. The smell of lilies and pinecones mixed in the air, creating a memorable scent and through every window stretched a sea of endless whiteness in all directions.

My mother stood by the fireplace, watching it with blank eyes. I remember wobbling unsteadily toward her, asking for her to pick me up in her arms.

“Mais non, ma cherie, tu est trop grande!” she exclaimed, turning her head. I gave her my “pretty please” look and whimpered slightly. Eventually, her eyes lit up and she gave in.

“Tu est trop grande, tu est trop grande…” she sang, bouncing me up and down. She leaned in to kiss my cheek, her dark hair tickling my skin. I giggled and tugged at it a little.

“Ow!” she joked. She began humming and bouncing me again, while walking over to the ancient rocking chair in the corner, her favorite seat in the house. She set me on her lap, and I let my head rest on her shoulder. We sat there together for a while, only hearing the rhythmic creaking of the chair and the crackling of the wood fire.

The next part is when it starts to get blurry. I remember my father appearing suddenly at the doorway, shouting something at my mother. Something horrible, I could tell. I felt her tense up under me. The next thing I knew, I was being dragged out of my mother’s lap and flung unto the floor. I don’t know what she said, but he got even angrier and stood directly over her, raising his hand to hit her. I screamed, desperately trying to save my mother from being hurt. His hand froze in midair. Then he turned and began walking toward me, laughing maliciously.

The last thing I remember was pain.

It was my first day of school, my second month in England and my third encounter with English people. I stood at the front of a classroom full of kids, some my age, some not. I clutched my mother’s hand much too tightly, afraid to let it go.

“Now class, this is Ari. She’s joining us from a place called Switzerland. She doesn’t speak much English, so I want you all to be very friendly to her!” A man they called Mr. Bradley introduced me, watching me carefully. He beamed at me. I cowered and hid behind my mother. He had vampire teeth! My eyes darted quickly around the room. There were large, colorful posters carefully affixed to the cream colored walls, the table were several different colors, and the kids sitting at them were too.

I didn’t understand any of it. The kids around me seemed to be having so much fun…I wanted to join them, to be carefree also. I didn’t know it then, but something held me back, but I couldn’t figure out what. I chewed at my bottom lip nervously as I saw each kid glance gradually up at me, their expressions varying degrees of curiosity.

“Say hi class!” Mr. Bradley prompted. I hadn’t noticed that he was still talking. A chorus of greetings rumbled around the class. I smiled sheepishly, lowering my eyes to the floor.

At last it was time for mother to go and I felt the tears brim in my eyes.

She bent down to my height and placed her cool hands on my cheeks. She stared sternly into my eyes and said:

“Non. Don’t let them see you cry. You have to show them you’re strong, you’re a Genoût. Les Genoûts ne pleurons pas. Tu me comprends?” She scolded me in broken French. I nodded to show my understanding. Her expression softened, and she wiped my tears with her thumb.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be back, okay? I love you. Be brave for maman, won’t you?” I nodded again, but I was unable to stop the tears from spilling onto my cheeks. She stood up slowly and began to walk away.

“Maman?” she turned around, just as she was about to close the door behind her.

“Je t’aime aussi.” I said. She smiled and then clicked the heavy door shut, leaving my staring after her back.

“Hi!” a boy with tawny hair and striking green eyes said, breaking my trance. “I’m Kieran. Will you sit next to me?” He said looking up at me, pointing to one of the brightly colored tables.

“Je m’appel-”I stopped, almost forgetting what my mother had told me about speaking French to English people (don’t do it). “My name is Ari…umm, okay.” He barely waited ‘till I’d answered before he grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the table he’d been pointing to earlier. He sat down in one chair, and I chose the chair opposite him. We stared warily at each other, or rather, he stared at me while I folded my arms and tucked my chin into my chest. Then the talking started. That little seven-year-old boy talked to me about everything from football to politics. After a while, he stopped, sensing that I wasn’t listening. I looked up to see if there was something wrong. It startled me when I found that he was staring at right at me. Staring very intensely, and I began to feel uncomfortable and squirmed in my chair.

“What’s…wrong?” I asked tentatively, trying to pick the right words. He looked at me nervously and said:

“I-I-I think you’re p-p-retty.” He stammered apologetically. I could my cheeks reddening as I struggled to find the right reply.

“Thank you.” I said quietly. We sat in an awkward silence until Mr. Bradley clapped his hands noisily, a sign that it was time for class to begin.

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