My first word was “light.” That’s a lie. But I pointed at the light in my nursery as my mom read me Goodnight Moon and I think that was the first time I really spoke. That was my first word in the universe. Light.
‘Goodnight light’ — stop, point — ‘and the red balloon. Goodnight bears, goodnight chairs, goodnight kittens and goodnight mittens.’
‘Goodnight little house.’ In the White House, that’s what my broken family calls the house I was born into, I think the sounds I remember are quiet fighting, sparkling cider popping and sizzling on New Year’s Eve, soft footsteps with no socks or shoes as I learned the word barefoot. I thought it was bear foot. They sound the same.
My mom always told me that when I was little my brain worked faster than my body. My mind worked faster than my tongue, unable to get out the noises that would make words that would make sentences that would sound like anything.
The first memory I have of my mom is in my nursery, yellow walls leftover from when they didn’t know my sister’s sex, pineapple souffle was the name of that color, lavender fairies stuck onto the wall. My mom says it was a beautiful nursery. She built my crib herself, nine months pregnant and violently ill, I was eating her from the inside out.
I don’t remember what she says in the nursery to little me, but I remember the vibration of her chest as she spoke with my head of dark brown hair nestled against her breast. In her office, that’s where I was raised outside of the White House, I sit on my mom’s lap and my head is pinned to her chest as it vibrates with warm words in meetings at her brick school. Mom speaks carefully, with purpose, exact words like a blade.
I never lived in the Brown House, but that’s where my sister was born into, and my parents swear that one night they heard the jingling of dog tags from our neighbors’ dog who’d been hit by a car long ago. That is my first memory of a memory of a sound that precedes me.
I remember when I was little — and this is just a memory of a memory of a sound of when someone described this to me — I was playing with a yo-yo in the backseat of his car while Dad drove me and my sister back to Mom’s house, or to school, or something. The wind was rushing by the old, shitty Cadillac, woosh, I was throwing the yo-yo around, and I threw it forward and it hit my sister on the head. Clunk. She probably got mad, screamed a loud scream at me and at Dad to take it away from me. Dad didn’t stop the car. He grabbed the yo-yo from me, yelled something in my direction that my brain did not encode the words for, rolled down the window with a screech as the glass scraped against the metal and threw it out without a second thought. It probably smacked the ground as it landed at sixty miles an hour.
‘Goodnight nobody.’ My world is silent from three to twelve, all I can remember is deafening silence. Parents fighting while you nap, not-parents fighting with parents while you are in your twin bed next to your not-sister’s twin bed, the world is so quiet. I remember going to school, chatter around me, going home, quiet. The only words I remember from three to twelve: I wish he would just kill himself.
At thirteen my world is so loud it hurts. It is loud TV static, and it is so loud that I can’t hear anybody else. I remember the words of the school counselor, but not really, I only remember the dullness of her words like a well-worn razor dragged against my skin. My mom takes away my phone. We seek help.
I remember when that happens again, it is like my eardrums have burst, I cannot hear anything from thirteen to seventeen because all I can hear is wild screaming. I don’t have many memories aside from the bad things. I can never remember the exact words that people used unless they left scars. And even then it is touch-and-go.
At seventeen, the screaming turns into my favorite song, being played over and over again until I cannot stand it anymore. It is so violently rich. I hear myself disappear, and not come back for a very long time. I hear the hospital machines beep, I hear other patients compare meal plans, I hear something like Charlie Brown adults.
When I am back in the nursery with my mom, I hear you are my sunshine my only sunshine. I hear my blankie rubbing against my face, getting tangled in between my fingers, the soft shhh of thread against my skin. I think the memories I have of before I can remember are the memories I hold onto. I hear the bubbling of a fake aquarium, I do not hear my father telling me that I am too emotional, I do not hear my sister telling me I am her daughter too, I only hear my mother’s coos of unconditional love.
‘Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.’