Unearthing My Earliest Memories and An American Growing Up in Japan

Unearthing My Earliest Memories: A Foggy Journey Through the Youngest Years of Childhood

I was in the fifth grade when my best friend, Jason, and I were giving a presentation on the Wright brothers. We had made costumes, built a model, and were speaking from a script that we had written, and were presenting as if we were the Wright brothers. Jason went off the script and started to improv, and I looked at him, and I don’t know whether it was out of nervousness or impatience or the audacity of his to adlib my script, but I began laughing furiously. Jason ignored me, almost as if he knew that it was going to happen. The rest of the class—our audience—however, were unable to reconcile the bubbling idiot who was unable to finish the presentation without interrupting into laughter. I often contribute this moment as my earliest fluid memory.

We experience every situation from inside our own heads, and any other persons’ experience of the same event puts them at the center of the experience, however, they’re not experiencing it with the intention of understanding your experience, of course. They’re concerned only with how they relate to that moment. I remember standing in front of the classroom laughing hysterically, and wanting to interrupt the presentation to explain why I was laughing, which only made me laugh more and harder. I often wonder what a person might be thinking, in regard specifically, to a way that I may have behaved or something that I said but knowing that their experience of the event was different, because I won’t flat out ask them. I also know that I’m not alone in that behavior. I wonder why it’s become more common—and might even be taboo to ask—to not flat out ask and then to eliminate whatever doubt there might be, and I think that’s a major failure among societies accepted expectations. 

Also, while in the fifth grade, getting to school before the first bell meant that we were allowed to play outside: we were allowed to play basketball or to swing on the swing set, we were allowed to be free for a little while with no expectation or demand or interference, if the weather permitted. If the weather was not permitting, we were lined up in single file lines, and sat in rows in the cafeteria, and we were expected to be quiet. I had a hard time accepting the contrast of expectation due to something so arbitrary as the weather. It had rained on this particular morning, and it had also stopped raining, nevertheless, that morning we were expected to let ourselves in to the cafeteria and sit in strict silence, as if we were to punish ourselves, and for what we would never know, but we were definitely given more than enough time to think it over in that muggy over lit cafeteria.

On this particular morning, my friend Jimmy and I didn’t want to sit inside in contemplation of autocratic rule, so we didn’t let ourselves into the cafeteria. We stayed outside playing basketball, with the basketball that I would bring to school with me every day. If anybody that we didn’t know or couldn’t trust happened to walk by, Jimmy and I would run and hide behind the large cement tube in the playground that was packed with shards of craggy pebbles (it was one of those cement tubes that have only ever been seen in construction sites and 1990’s playgrounds). Eventually, a fellow student saw us running toward the tube, and after letting herself inside the cafeteria, she grabbed the first adult she could find, and she tattled—she f$&king tattled on us. I still very much remember her, and I still bloody hate her.

In retrospect, reliving the experience as an adult, would I have done anything differently here? Absolutely not, no; what lessons are meant to teach us, and which are rooted in impatience and exerting a persons’ own perceived authority? Right and wrong, and how we choose to define right and wrong become less and less obvious the older you get, not because what is right and what is wrong becomes more ambiguous, but because people will find flexibility in their morals in order to justify their behaviors. And then, they’ll redefine what is right and what is wrong, while teaching their new belief system to others.

Jimmy and I were going to be disciplined for evading capture and detainment that morning, and that was supposed to teach us something, as if somehow our behavior of simply wanting to be left alone and playing basketball in the morning, when we would have been doing the exact same thing on almost any other morning, needed emotional reconditioning. What we did was, apparently, a pretty big deal, and we found ourselves sitting in the principal’s office, as our principal paced back and forth behind his desk muttering, “What am I going to do with you?” The severity of whatever lesson we were meant to learn was obviously weighing heavy on the man, as if that moment would decide the fate of our characters, and the men that we would grow to become; setting the course for the rest of our lives from then on, and that on our deathbeds we would shake our fists in the air praying for redemption. “What am I going to do with you?

We were two fifth graders, wide-eyed and terrified, and we were clearly consigned to the fate of a man who was using a series of words that either of us had only heard, up to then, watching age-inappropriate movies. We imagined our elementary school principal was only moments away from violently clearing his desk, unrolling a wrapped collection of tools on the surface, and then torturing us right there in his office at Fair Oaks Ranch Elementary School. He sat on his throne, and put his forefingers to his mouth, “What’s your favorite class?” he asked, instead of clearing his desk. Jimmy and I looked at one another, “Uh, P.E.” We agreed. “Ah, of course! Why wouldn’t it be?” We looked at each other knowingly, we were young, but we were old enough to know that the rest of the classes were stupid. Are…are you going to torture us now? I thought. In a way… I could feel him silently respond. The three of us sat there for an uncomfortably long time.

Punishments are meant to deter us from breaking a rule, they have no place in our cognitive development or personal growth, and it makes you wonder—if you were to actually think about—and let me preference: a thought experiment does not actually end at the evaluation of an idea that you already want to believe. For example, when Oprah expressed the importance of “owning your truth,” our thought experiment, when accepting the concept as mainstream, ended at the most surface level ideology of what “owning our truths,” could possibly mean, and then resulted in not just one generations canon, but in the selfish reactions of several generations, that was bad—what might work better than punishing someone, especially a child, for a behavior that isn’t inherently wrong? When we are punished, we are not necessarily taught to value a rule, we’re taught to fear the repercussions of breaking a rule, however, rules differ and vary depending on the environment of the rule.

It felt as if a lot of time had passed without anyone saying anything; I was a bit of a smartass and had a tendency to kind of, “feel out” authority—some persons’ of authority intimidated me, while others did not—I was lucky in the sense that I could be a smartass and still manage to maintain an effervescent atmosphere. Finally, our principal spoke up, “Today, when it’s time for your classes to…” “We’re in the same class.” I interrupted. “…whatever…when it’s time for your class to go to P. E., you two are going to come to my office, and you’re each going to take a trash bag…” our principal held up a flimsy black and orange cardboard box full of black trash bags and shook it, “…and you’re going to spend the period picking up trash on the grounds of the school. I want you both to come back with a full bag of trash.” He said, in the same kind of serious way that a tormentor would his victims, “What if there isn’t enough trash for a full bag?” I interjected.

Our punishment in that situation lasted only a matter of seconds because what challenged Jimmy and I the most was what we imagined the worst to be. We were concerned only with how awful the image that we created in our minds was. And I think that’s the most powerful impact that our memories have on us, is that they create and build upon our subconscious mind, and the first, and immediate perceptions and reactions that we have in any given situation, because we unconsciously accept the belief that our first impressions are true.

Later that afternoon, Jimmy and I watched as our classmates lined up against the white concrete wall outside of the elementary school’s gymnasium, and with our heads bowed we trudged our heavy bodies back to the principals’ office. Don’t look back, I thought to myself, it’ll be harder if you look back. The principal handed us the whole box of trash bags, and we started toward the front doors, and then walked the perimeter of the school picking up trash. “Do you think it’s strange?” “What’s strange?” “That our punishment for trying to hang out unsupervised outside, and on school grounds, is to wander the school grounds unsupervised during school hours?” “Yeah, maybe. But It is strange that two fifth graders are being portrayed as having a conversation about the nature of their punishment that they likely were too young or, at the very least, not in the right frame of mind to have actually had.” “True dat!” We imagined ourselves part of a chain gang, put to chores by the good state of Texas to increase the standard of living for the decent hearted people of the Lone Star State, at our expense.

I think we both realized then, although I’m not sure that either of us voiced it, or could articulate it, that our punishment wasn’t that we were having to pick up trash, our punishment was missing our favorite class. Our punishment was to challenge our own perceptions of our favorite parts of ourselves.

As my friend and I made our rounds picking up trash, and against all odds, despite the intention of our principal, we actually started having fun. I remember too, being surprised by what we found discarded behind an elementary school (use your imagination, include your responses in the comments section). The thought occurred to us, that the following week is Thanksgiving, and that there would be a lot of classes having their own individual class Thanksgivings. We agreed that it would be fun—even more fun! —to drop by every classroom at Fair Oaks Ranch Elementary and offer to relieve the classrooms of their trash. And so, Jimmy and I did, we went from classroom to classroom, knocking on doors, and inviting ourselves into classrooms holding a box of trash bags, “Do you have trash you would like us to take?” If any of the elementary school teachers thought it was strange that two kids were wandering around campus picking up trash, not a single one of them voiced that concern, which is a little eye opening to say the least. When the afternoon was all said and done, Jimmy and I had delivered twelve bags of trash to our principal that day, piling the bags in his office one by one, eager to believe that if there was some message in our actions that our principal would understand it, even if we didn’t.

What we learned that day wasn’t at all what they wanted us to learn, although even almost thirty years later, I still can’t fathom what it was that we were supposed to learn; what we did learn is that people are fallible, and almost any given situation is only as bad or as good as the way that you choose to frame it. And nobody ever f$&ked with us again!

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