I am two years old. Ribbons of leather harness fasten me to the iron grill of our front porch. I watch Scott Worthington, also two, scoop out boat-shaped pieces of orange his mother has pushed into his hands before smacking her hands on her apron and turning to clip up the wooden stairs into her house. Behind Scott stretch the tethers of his own harness which are attached to the rails of his own front porch. We meet here, at the invisible line that separates my “properly” from his, able just to touch but not to tangle. On another day, I will work at the buckles behind him and once I have set him free, will instruct him with some newly learned words injected into the dance of my hands, in undoing my harness. But for now, I watch in silence as he snuffles into the sun-coloured fruit and lets the peels drop to the grass. Inside the white husks, tiny seed-sized pieces of orange sparkle in the post-nap sun. I squat, straining a little at my bindings, to retrieve these unwanted morsels, and bend the slice backward, as I have seen my big sister do, to nibble at what has been left behind. Over the point of the peel I see Scott’s face redden, his mouth fly open and such a sound comes out of that small mouth that I freeze, my tongue poking into empty space. My ornch! he shrieks.
I snap out my hands, palms up, to display the empty peels. But his head is thrown back and his wailing goes on.
His front door swings open, his mother a blur as she rushes to drop to her knees beside him, her gaze scanning my suddenly guilty hands, the last peel on the ground, and Scott, with the final piece of fruit still clutched in his greedy little hands, crying, My ornch! She smacks the empty peel from my hands, scoops it up, returns it to Scott and shakes a long white finger at me. Don’t steal, Susy. That’s bad. That’s Scott’s orange. Bad girl. I can’t close my mouth and I don’t know what words to push out of it anyway. She scowls into my hot face and then hoists herself up and goes back into the house. I stare at Scott. Who looks so happy. So victorious.
That is my earliest memory. The next one, also at two, is of being removed from the sweet-smelling curl of Gladys in her opaque cave of an oxygen tent and being put back into my own cold empty one.
Then I am three, sitting on the kitchen counter with an ice pack on my head. I’ve been slammed into the dashboard of my daddy’s car. This is a good memory, because I am a hero. I’m a hero because instead of crying or getting mad, I’d looked up from the floor and said, “I think I hurt myself.”
Early memories are often ones of trauma, injury or shock. Our peaceful existences disrupted by things not so pleasant. I find this both sad and telling. These events and our responses to them seem to shape our view of the world. For me: Incident 1) I’m nice. I try to help. People misunderstand me and I can’t defend myself. Incident2) Don’t get too comfortable; any moment now someone’s going to yank it all away. Incident 3) Be brave, be cheerful and you’ll be a hero.
But here’s the thing – days, weeks, months and years went by where everything was lovely. I laughed like a maniac in my high chair, apparently, when my siblings jolted back from feeding me, shrieking that I’d bit their fingers. I don’t remember that. If I did, maybe I’d be tougher, meaner, like a television villain who laughs with a nasal sneer when he makes others suffer. If I remembered the times when my needs were intuited, rather than the nights lying awake terrified of the laughing clowns on my ceiling’s Howdy Doody light fixture, perhaps I wouldn’t be so pushy in trying to get my point across.
My stepdaughter remembers a trip to a conservation area when she was six years old because we were playing blind-man’s-bluff and I spun blind with my hands out and smacked her across the face. She remembers, not because we found soft creatures unfurling in the creek’s shallows or because we bounced on the spongy moss or because the air was pungent with the sticky scent of Balsam Poplar, or even because later we inspected maple water lines and ate pancakes smothered in newly thickened maple syrup. No, she remembers because I slapped her in the face. I don’t blame her; that’s just what ignites our gray matter.
How do we counter this? In Neuro-linguistic-programming (NLP), there is a technique to “anchor” a new idea or response, whereby you touch a particular spot on your body, such as a knuckle or cheek, in order to access or provoke a preferred state or feeling. So, rather than being “triggered” by a situation and responding as if the ancient assault is reoccurring, we activate a response of our choosing. A positive state of being – calm and clear-headed. But one has to have experienced this calm state, recognized it, and then anchored it into the body. It requires consciousness and alertness.
I make my living as a Rebalancer. Rebalancing is essentially a massage with a focus on awareness, let-go, and breath, in conjunction with slow deep strokes to release and restore muscles. One of the ways I “anchor” a sense of restoration is to work only a small portion of the body at a time, and then pause to direct the client’s attention to that part and have them compare it to the same part on the opposite side of the body. Without this pause most people don’t really notice the profound shifts that have taken place. Once the suggestion to check in has been made, most people are astounded at the disparity between sides. (That’s the fun part for me.) But what also occurs in that moment of noticing, is an anchor to a state. I will tell my clients that are they are developing a new body awareness, that we are replacing the imbalances and pain patterns with a newly minted memory of the body feeling light and balanced.
This, I tell myself, this slide of the hip as the music calls me to dance, this warm fire on a rainy night, this layered delight of a novel I’m reading, this patient listening of a friend, this sudden kindness from my teenage son – this is my life; what matters and what is true…