I attended a yoga event some weeks ago, during which we were asked to write for 8 minutes, without editing, just creating, about what we remembered and what we didn’t remember about significant events for our bodies. I know for some the topic could seem inappropriate but I chose to think about my first period – mainly because I couldn’t think of any other major events – no kids, relatively good health and generally sheltered life! It was an interesting exercise about memory, what we remember upfront and what might be there, on the underside. We all have memories and stories that we tell ourselves. Writing about what I remembered was easier than writing about what I don’t remember. The remembered bits are well-rehearsed, the bits we share with friends and family, providing a narrative to our lives. Being asked to write about things I didn’t remember got me thinking about those narratives, how they had been woven into my identity. It prompted me to reflect on what it was necessary for me to remember, in order to be me.
My mother had dementia and was unable in the final years of her life to speak or communicate in any meaningful way with those around her. She couldn’t chat about the old days and embarrass us with tales of her youth (or our youth). And yet she still was.
I am fascinated by memory, what is true, what made up, what is borrowed and how the results are used to shape individual stories and myths. I worry when I can’t remember names, events, dates, places. But those things happened, even without all those details. So why be bothered? I think it is because we enjoy, and find it reassuring, to tell ourselves stories. It gives us purpose and imposes a trajectory on our lives. Without memories, what am I?
I have always told myself that my first period happened on a day when I was going to play with my friend Judith, at her house. Her Mum was a great friend of my Mum and was one of the unrelated people I called ‘auntie’. But I don’t really remember when it was. I quite like the narrative though as it suggests that although I ‘got my period’ I continued to be a child – playing. I also like the idea that whatever happened we were just supposed to get on with it. Thanks Mum!
Whilst I remember having to wear a belt and sanitary towel, presumably bought in anticipation, I have no recollection of how the topic was broached. I don’t remember the details just as I don’t remember having explicit conversations about sex, sexuality, reproduction. Some of it was covered at school in Sex Education classes – but again I don’t remember much of those either The only one that sticks in my mind is the lesson we had which involved being shown a film about childbirth – the actual event. This is one thing I think I remember – it looked horrific. Reflecting on that, I wonder if it was one of the contributing factors to my childless state. That and not wanting to produce another me, even if leavened by another’s genes.
I realise I don’t remember very much of what is supposed to be a significant event – the transition from girlhood to womanhood and all that. Equally I don’t remember very much of my last, as in final, period. Again the potentially significant transition, from woman to old crone, passes my memory by.
And yet it has happened.