Sometimes you lose them forever. Sometimes you just misplace them. Sometimes they aren't real.
Memories are slippery, amorphous creatures that wiggle through our fingers and disappear under the bed with all the glowing eyed monsters, single rogue socks, and books that are never where you left them.
Unlike other people who profess to remember early life experiences, I've never been convinced that I have "real" memories of my life before age four. I have photographs implanted in my mind of events – images that come from actual photographs, home movies, or relatives' retelling of events. But real memories at ages two or three? I don't think so. Not me.
Drive-in movie theaters populated the landscape when I was a preschooler. I have a distinct memory of a long car trip from California to Oklahoma. My family was moving home, back to Oklahoma, pulling a trailer, with only enough money for gas and not much else. My dad drove straight through. I lay on a mattress in the packed backseat (remember when cars were big enough you could put mattresses in the backseat?). Level with the windows, I had a 360 degree view of the sky. I remember a string of drive-in movie screens that I could see from my makeshift bed.
I know the trip was real. I know we drove at night. And I also know that no one took photographs and told me about the drive-in movie screens. The adults would have had no reason to talk to me about the flickering images seen from the highway. No one but a bored preschooler would have been fascinated by the quick peeks at scenes from movies as we passed by.
It's strange to think that my first real memory might have been scenes from B movies. Images moving on a screen without sounds or endings.
That night I discovered the power - I could make up my own stories.
Other people claim to have memories of events at a much earlier age. Maybe they're real memories. Maybe as a toddler I was just so self-absorbed that I didn't pay much attention to what was going on around me. To some extent I've always lived in my head. From my enthrallment with my grandmother's stories of talking mice families living in her house, to my discovery of entire worlds hidden in books, to the miraculous glory of movies, I had found a way to leave the here and now. I could be anyone, travel anywhere, and change anything that I wanted – whenever I wanted.
In my mind, I could rewrite the endings to those books, television shows, and movies so that the main characters not only rode off into the sunset together, but had lives afterward. I added scenes that happened after the credits rolled, after the last page was turned. In my mind I wrote the epilogue, the years after Shane came back, the rebuilding of Tara, and the marriage of Candy and Jeremy long after the cancellation of Here Comes the Brides.
About five years ago, with the encouragement of Marian, my co-author and friend, I began putting scenes on paper. The words I heard in my head became dialogue between people I created. The people did what I told them to do.
It was magic. It was powerful.
It was another form of what I'd always done.
Or at least that's my memory of it.