I have always been envious of people who seemingly can remember with ease detailed memories from their childhood. My sister-in-law is one such person. It never ceases to amaze me the things she can remember about her and Mark’s childhood, as if the past is always present, just at the end of her fingertips.
For me, my childhood has always been a distant land full of fortresses and locked doors. I know that this is largely due to the fact that I had an abusive childhood, and pain is best locked away rather than relived. I didn’t make this decision consciously, to lock away the pain and the memories that went with it. Rather, this decision was made long, long ago by my subconscious. It knew what was best for me. It knew that there were certain things that needed to be locked away and others that deserved to be locked away
Later in my life, I joined the efforts of my subconscious mind when I joined the Mormon Church. There was so much of my past that seemed shameful, not the least of which was my closeted homosexuality. My solution to this was to look at my past through a Mormon lens, reinterpreting and filing away that which was unpleasant or unseemly. In consequence, I lost still more memory.
Still later in my life, I came to a point where I had to deal in some way with the abuse of my childhood. Memories seemed to explode out of me; not in my mind and memory, but in my body, e.g.. heart palpitations, flinging my arms up in front of my face to protect it from the belt. At first, I couldn’t understand what was happening. Then, I understood, thanks in large part to an incredible physician who was also a very wise counselor.
I searched for memories of abuse and found that other memories, good ones, had been locked away with the bad ones. It was if I stood before a fortress of memory. No matter how many times I pounded on the door, it refused to budge. There was no answer from the other side.
I turned to my older siblings. I had never talked with them about what had happened, nor had they with me. We had never sat down together, all five of us, to speak truth (nor would we ever do so). We all hid it away – until I started making phone calls. Even then, it was difficult to speak of it; but they did. Some of my own memories returned. Most – stubbornly – lay locked away. Finally, I turned in sadness and walked away.
When I came out in the fall of 2010, I returned once more to the fortress and knocked. For the first time in my life, through the medium of my Invictus Pilgrim blog, I took off the “Mormon lens” and wrote honestly and openly of my sexuality and how it had all began – at least of what I could remember. I started with my childhood then progressed through my adolescence to early adulthood.
But there was only so much I could remember. Unfortunately, the period in which I went through puberty was also the period in which my parents were going through a very messy and painful separation that would eventually lead to their divorce. Because of this, those two years seemed unreachable in my memory, no matter how hard I tried to remember - until the last couple of weeks.
A couple of months ago, I began working in earnest on a memoir of the year I came out. I knew the first couple of chapters would be the most difficult to write since they would delve into my past. I finished a rough draft of the chapter dealing with the period from the time I joined the Mormon Church until I got married.
Then, I turned to an even more difficult chapter – that recounting how I came to realize that I was attracted to boys instead of girls and how I “dealt” with this knowledge over the course of the next 12 years of my life. Once again, I went back to the land of memory and knocked on the fortress door. Still locked. Still no answer.
This time, however, I decided to walk around the perimeter of the fortress to see if there was another door. I found one, turned the knob and pushed. To my surprise, it opened. A few “fresh” memories came back. I started exploring and found that I had found an outer ring in the fortress’ defenses. Soon, I found another door. It was locked, but I walked on until I found another one. It opened, disclosing more memories.
And so it has gone over the course of the past couple of weeks. It’s difficult for me to express how much this progress means to me. It has not only brought increased understanding of the little gay boy I was (unbeknownst to me at the time); it has also brought joy at remembering and hope that more will yet be divulged.
Though I know that the past will never be at my fingertips as it is with Mark’s sister, I have hope that the day will come when it will be much closer to hand and I won’t be afraid of it anymore.