I remember pressing my forehead against the back of the school bus seat, feeling the vibration of the engine rumbling through me, breathing in the dank smell of naugahyde. I remember picking the dry yellow foam stuffing out of a crack in the upholstery.
I remember rippling wheat fields, the quiet of the prairie.
I remember stern warnings not to lick the metal swing set in winter because our tongues would freeze onto it and get stuck.
I remember licking it anyway, and discovering that grownups don’t always know.
I remember the giant, orange harvest moon squatting low on the horizon while Henrietta and I scrambled over the playground equipment outside the community hall after a potluck dinner. The inky sky, the yellow light streaming out the open door. I remember both of our high voices folding over each other, “Mummy’s having a baby! Mummy’s having a baby!” and the silhouette of my mother smiling in the dark, having just broken the news.
I remember the white cable knit sweater of the neighbor whose body I leaned into while waiting for my parents to return from the hospital without Henrietta.
I remember the little manger in our Nativity set, filling it with straw for the baby Jesus. One strand per good deed, to soften his bed. The rule is, you don’t have to ask for permission and you don’t have to tell mum and dad. When you’ve been good, you just go fish a little stalk out of the jar and place it in the manger. I remember the private wholesomeness of this small unwitnessed act. I remember feeling seen.
I remember the boy in school who asked, “Is your sister really dead?” I remember saying yes.
I remember the smell of oil paints in the paint by numbers kit my friend got for Christmas. The pleasant stink of linseed oil; the creamy white and brown, the outline of trees, a barn, a snowy roof.
I remember my mother crying on the sofa.
I remember the skating rink my father made by flooding our front porch, bumpy and gritty but all mine and hers to slide on whenever we wanted, even just in our snow boots.
I remember twisting away from black and white cartoons to see if Henrietta was laughing too. I remember feeling embarrassed that I’d forgotten she was gone, even though I was alone and there was no one to feel embarrassed in front of.
I remember balancing baby Bianca on my lap and thinking, I am the big sister now.
I remember drying dishes for my mother, and the teacup saucer that slipped to the floor and broke because I’d left it wrapped in the tea towel, forgetting to tell her.
I remember the toughness of cold steak that would not break down in my mouth no matter how much I chewed it.
I remember the little chunk of pink salt lick that I’d picked up at the farm, and its satisfying burn on my tongue.
I remember the earthy spice of radishes, and tiny carrots pulled too soon from soft soil, no bigger than a lock of hair.
This piece is my experiment with a writing prompt called “I Remember”. It’s useful for accessing visceral sense-memories that can be hard to uncover through our conscious mental narratives. Choose a topic or a setting that you want to explore, then set a timer for twenty minutes and free write, each line starting with the words “I remember.” You might be surprised by what comes up. These delicate lines can carry more story than you might expect.
I went into a deeper explanation of this prompt and how to use it in my emails. You can sign up to my list here!