Before I was born is a cloud of hearsay to me. I can recall the telling of it, or the reading of it, but it’s all someone else’s word.
My earliest actual memory emerges two months before my first birthday in the living room of the house I was born into. The occasion is a photo session, and I am the subject. There is the photographer with his eye glasses, and his artificial lights of transcendent brightness. With me are my parents, and my dad’s parents, whose house is also ours at the time. There are many poses, with an assortment of props, from a variety of angles. I distinctly remember an ottoman, which I was to lean upon, would be re-located several times before a satisfactory composition was achieved.
Anyone can see what I was wearing that day, the shape of my face, my disposition of the moment— these are all perfectly preserved in the surviving prints. What is striking to me now, in my memory of that day, is that I could follow the conversation among the adults as they discussed what to do for the next shot, and their instructions to me. I felt no need to verbalize in response, but I had no trouble processing what they were saying.
This surprising awareness has since informed my grown-up interactions with even the smallest of children: they know more than they say.
And from that day to where I now sit, I have been continuously, and consciously, “me”.