Remember the Time When...

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I’m alone in the living room, thumbing through a cabinet of homemade videos. Sarah’s First Birthday – Dec. 1997. Hawaii – Dec. 2003. They are all neatly labeled in sequential order. Despite moving all across the continent, sometimes only a year between moves, we’ve somehow managed to keep almost all of our videos together.

It’s silent right now, if not for the low whirring of the air conditioning. My brother is at a soccer game—the last game of the season, and my parents are out at a “parents-only” party. They asked me if I would be okay by myself and I told them that I was already fourteen and that I could handle it—so they went. And now I’m here, savoring a few hours of quiet that feel like heaven to me.

I take out the first disk that catches my eye. Brian – 2000, the year my brother was born. I place the disk into the player and watch it from the beginning.

The first shot is of my mom, lying asleep in a tangle of plastic tubes on a white hospital bed. And then I see me, three years old at the time, holding my grandma’s hand. I shake her hand gently. When she leans down toward me, I ask sweetly, “Can I see my baby brother now?” I give her an innocent look that only three year-olds can pull off.

“Not now, but soon,” she answers. She looks so much younger in the video than she did when I last saw her two months ago. In the video, her smile doesn’t carve deep wrinkles into her face, and her eyes are brighter and livelier. It’s unbelievable how much eleven years can take away from someone.

“Are you excited to see him, Sarah?” my dad’s voice booms in the background. I look toward the direction of the camera. “I’m going to be the best big sister in the world,” I say proudly and sincerely.

My dad chuckles and I giggle, with my two front teeth showing. Up until about the sixth grade, people thought the awkward gap between my two front teeth was cute; but as I got older, it became more embarrassing than cute, and I had to have it fixed with braces.

After that, the screen flickers. Now three year-old me is staring at baby Brian, who is bundled up snugly in a fuzzy blanket. His eyes are closed and his skin is the color of a dark beet. I poke at his cheeks curiously, and to my shock, he starts jerking his legs wildly and he starts to wail—louder than I had thought possible for a guy his size. The camera swivels around for a moment before the screen goes black.
II

The next disks belong in an age of dragons and magical kingdoms—the time when make-believe felt completely real. My brother was a new addition to my journeys into fantastical lands where anything could happen.

“AAaaaagghhh!” my brother squeals as I chase after him.

My arms are held high above my head, and I yell in my toughest voice, “I will get you, Prince Brian. Nobody defeats the evil witch!”

He ducks into our makeshift fort, made of bed sheets and thick phonebooks stacked high on top of each other.

“Oh no,” I say. “He has entered the guarded fortress. You may have won this time, but I’ll get you someday!”

And the next day, I did.

We lived in a small town in California then. I had two best friends who were almost the same age as I was. I recognize us at once under the cherry tree. Lucy’s noticeably the tallest and has pigtails on each side of her head. I’m the one with short, cropped hair—smaller than Lucy but bigger than Josh. Josh is busy munching on a handful of cherries he put in his mouth all at once. He ends up spitting it all out in the end—guess he forgot about the pits.

There is a lot of giggling and we chase each other around and around the cherry trees until we’re too dizzy to continue. After that, we just plop right onto the wet grass without worrying about getting our butts dirty. And then my dad says to get real close so he can zoom in on all our faces together. We all have real smiles on our faces—not plastered and fake the way people smile now. We get so close that our faces touch, and we look so happy with our laughing eyes and gleaming teeth.

Almost all of my memories of Lucy and Josh come from these videos. The day we chased each other around the cherry tree was likely one of the last times we ever saw each other before we lost contact. Josh stayed in California while Lucy moved to Ohio and I to Texas—they are nothing but names to me now.


III

The summers of Texas were brutal. Lazy afternoons were routine in the small town of Plano where I lived. It was dry, and rain showers were rare. Days passed slowly; thinking back, those days feel almost dream-like. I was just a third grader, laughing and running around a quiet suburban neighborhood, barefoot. That was the year I traded my fairy wings and princess outfits for a pair of running shorts and soccer cleats.

Both of my parents had to work in the day, so my brother and I were sent to a summer camp called Shiny Star. That’s where I met Lauren. We became instant best friends because, well, we were both tomboyish and had annoying little brothers.

I put the disk in that is simply titled Texas – 2004-2005. There are clips of Lauren and me together. In one, we’re both standing near the pool in our matching tie-dye swimsuits, waving cheerfully at the camera. We wave and wave until we feel awkward and jump into the pool; but we refuse to do anything until my dad agrees to turn off the camera. After a few moments of pretend pouting, my dad finally agrees and the camera temporarily goes black; though secretly, he turns it on again and films us squealing and laughing as we splash each other with water.

There are other people at the pool—three teenagers in stringy bikinis who just sit at edge without actually going in the water, a couple adults teaching their children how to float, and a few lap swimmers, but we seem oblivious to everyone around us. I don’t even notice when I bump into one of the teenagers, who seems really annoyed and convinces the other two to get up and leave. That’s the good thing about being ten—people think it’s perfectly normal for you to be immature and annoying.

We stay in the water until the sky turns a deep scarlet and we beg a hundred times to stay longer. Finally, our parents say no and we hug each other goodbye, already planning to come back the next day and do the same thing all over again.

It feels weird watching myself in a video—almost unnatural—like it’s not even me in it. Seeing this small girl run around and laugh stirs this strange nostalgia in me that isn’t completely mine.

That summer rolled by with pool time and day care in the day and anticipation for the next day at night. When it finally ended, my parents announced out of nowhere that we were moving. Moving. To a ten-year-old girl, whose world was just that small little neighborhood in the small little town of Plano, that word was a death sentence. I remember it as the first thing that had ever hurt me enough to really cry.
When I told Lauren, we cried until we forgot what we were crying about and spent almost every day after that together. Before I left, we pinky-promised that we would be best friends forever no matter what, and we swore we were going to see each other again when we became roommates at Stanford. At that age, the pinky-promise was sacred—no one ever broke one of those. We felt confident about it, and though we were sad, our last play dates were mainly like all the others—full of tricycle-riding and water gun fights. On the very last day, it was “promise this” and “promise that”, but years passed and our phone calls gradually dwindled from weekly to monthly, and then to not at all.


IV

I turn off the TV and take the disk out. I look at the next titles. Sarah Gives Elementary School Graduation Speech—2006. Sarah's High School vs. LHS: The School’s First Ever State Title—2010. I don’t need to watch those because I remember everything that happens in them.

I lean back on the couch, thinking about how much I would give to live just one of those moments again—to see those people I’m never going to see again. I wouldn’t need the time it takes to write a book or memorize every detail I’ve forgotten over the years—I just need a couple of seconds so I can snap mental pictures of Lauren, Lucy, and Josh that I will keep forever. But there’s no rewind button in life.
I laugh at myself for being such a hopeless fool, because the past is meant for the past and can’t be revisited no matter how hard you wish for it. I try not to think about the videos, but I can’t eject those wistful images from my mind; I just want it all back—the pristine innocence when you’re three, the make-believe when you’re six.

I close my eyes—remembering the day Lauren and I decided to write a petition protesting against the quality of our school lunches. We got around half the school to sign it. America is a free country, we said to the principal, We can protest whatever we want. I walk up the stairs, back to my room. I can write whatever I want. I grab my favorite gel pen and a piece of paper, and I begin writing.

Dear Lauren: Remember the time when…





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