I recently gave my class this writing assignment: Write what you don’t remember. It’s a nice twist to one of my favorite prompts (I remember). One of my students asked, “Well, if you don’t remember, how can you write it down?” The key to “I don’t remember” is that in naming what you don’t remember, you inadvertently trigger memories. Memory begets memory. It’s beautiful, really.
I don’t remember living in Queens, New York. I was five and though I get flashes of memories that walk me through that year, mostly, I don’t remember. What I do remember is the feel of the brick building that held my kindergarden class, where I got lost because I couldn’t understand the teacher’s instructions (since Spanish was what I learned at home) and instead of the playground, I was in the dark, cold hallway with my backpack and lunchbox. Alone. I remember being afraid. I must have cried, too. But that I don’t remember.
I also don’t remember where I lived, except that it was on a slope, and it was on an upper floor (third, perhaps?) because I remember the stairs with dark, wooden walls and the musky smell of closed spaces. I remember my Strawberry Shortcake comforter for my twin bed, though mostly because I have a picture of it with me right beside it: short, bobbed hair, black leotard and pink tights. I must have been taking ballet, though I clearly don’t remember that. I remember ballet in Miami, not in New York.
I remember my father’s fear, when he got mugged. I don’t remember how or when or why, except that I vaguely remember a story of him being taken by four men –or was it three?– and driven around, stripped of his wallet, money, and courage, only to be deposited back somewhere near our apartment, alive. He must have prayed, but I don’t remember him saying if he did. If he were alive, I’d ask him, but I don’t know that he’d remember.
If you’re feeling a need for a writing prompt, try “I don’t remember” — happy writing!