I used to join my mom at the office in her employer’s house when I was four years old. Or five. It’s possible I was six. I’m not sure. All other memories I have from this era of life are in entirely separate contexts, and I can’t connect any of them to a specific age. I’m, obviously, not even really sure what kind of work my mom did – something on the computer and with papers.
But I do remember the house’s fantastical backyard.
The property was several miles out of town. There were fields of hay and cows and horses on three sides and the Salmon River on the fourth. I have very specific memories of the place, but I don’t trust a single one of them.
I recall bushes. Tall bushes, rows and rows of them. They had to have been raspberry bushes, though I don't recall picking and eating raspberries, which I certainly would have done. What must have been around four or five rows of the foliage was at the time undoubtedly more akin to the Hampton Hedge Maze. I always felt adventurously lost in them.
I recall a massive monarch butterfly that repeatedly haunted my peaceful wanderings through the bushes. It had to have been legendary – bigger than any other butterfly I had believed to exist. It struck terror in my tiny heart more readily than any other creature. I ran from it to be later chastened by adults. "It's just a butterfly." Yes, but it was a big orange one. Those adults didn’t feel its magic or the dark terror it cast over me.
Across the deck from the unending bushes was a remarkably wide lawn. The expanse of green dropped suddenly in a cliff directly down to the raging river. It had been burned into my mind that the cliff was forbidden territory. If I looked in its direction for too long, my feet may fall into a trance and walk me directly into the river's pull. Either that, or my mother would kill me: whichever came first.
Some subtle aspects of the memories, however, lead me to believe that, in actuality, my 20-year-old self could bound across the lawn in just a few steps, and the "cliff" couldn't be anything more than a gently, rocky slope leading down to swirling water.
More powerful than any other memory of the place was what I can only describe as the enchanted pond. A few hundred feet from the bushes was a small body of still water – all I can make sense of now was that it must have been a calm eddy from the river. Full, green, luxurious trees arched above and dipped below, perfectly framing the water. I picked up fallen apricots from the trees. In my eyes, such fruit was good for nothing other than this use: I tossed them into the water, entranced by the ripples, striving to get as perfect a plop and as even a wave of ripples as I could. Golden light seemed to fall around the pond. Golden sparkles and, perhaps, some sort of fairy dust seem to coat the memory.
Surely, if I went back to visit that spot today, I would be severely underwhelmed by what would likely be mucky river water with overgrowth and decaying apricots everywhere.
When I wasn’t traipsing around outside while my mom worked, I was in the cool, dark basement watching PBS kids. I distinctly remember a short video that played in between episodes of shows where a girl was in a blank white room with a free-standing door in the middle of it. She opened the door and emerged into a wonderful, magical place of imagination… or something like that. (Concrete proof for how very frustrating these memories are: I located the video I remember. And it’s almost not at all like how I remember it.)
PBS kids' preaching on imagination was so believable, and the concept of a door to another dimension so phenomenal, that I thought for sure if I imagined hard enough, I would truly open up a door into a fun new place, just like the kids on TV.
I stood alone in the middle of the basement and thought very hard about a door. It didn’t yet appear physically, but I had faith that something would still happen. I reached out my hand to the invisible door knob, turned, and opened the phantom door, fully expectant of another dimension waiting in there. I was so disappointed when it didn’t work. I felt robbed; I felt that imagination was a lie; I felt like nothing would ever feel as magical as it was for the fake kids on TV.
So I guess my cynicism started somewhere around age four. But little did I know that the very "memories" I was making, shaping, concocting, pulling out of thin air at that age, would take on the exact fantastic, magical, enchanted feeling that I didn’t then believe was possible.
As a kid, I wanted to feel the power of imagination; I wanted to see reality contort before my very eyes. But now that I’m older and know how the mind distorts reality through memory, I regret ever desiring it.