616 East Lincoln Avenue, Nathan Hale Elementary, 616, Sarai Washington, Mother-Son Relationship, Child Abuse, Mount Vernon Hospital, 425 South Sixth Avenue, Child Neglect, Photographic Memory, Sexual Assault, Sexual Abuse, Playground, Big Wheel, Diana, First Grade, Repressed Memories, Eidetic Memory, 1976, Bicentennial
No one’s memories — even those whom are eidetic or whose memories can be near photographic — are perfect, especially over the long haul. As far as the scientific community knows, there are no exceptions. I include myself in that category. This despite having a memory cycle that has seldom let me down. Since August 8, 1974, there have been only a few gaps of any major significance. I might not be able to tell you exactly what I had for dinner on July 16, ’85, but my guess would include either chicken and dumplings or $5 spaghetti with meat sauce and frozen chopped broccoli, both courtesy of my shopping at C-Town in Pelham, New York almost every day (it was a welcome relief from the heat of sitting home at 616, anyway).
One area where my memory had let me down was parts of the summer of ’76, the bicentennial summer. I could vague remember being down in the city for some of the festivities that July 4th, followed by a long sleep on the free Metro-North ride that day, only to end up in New Haven, CT because my father had been drinking and sleeping on the train, too. I remembered my Mom buying a Polaroid and taking pictures of herself and us and her new furniture at 425 South Sixth at the beginning of the month.
And I remembered that this had occurred a couple of weeks later:
My first memories playing with a group of Black males in Mount Vernon, New York are all negative. When I was six in ’76, a group of preteens on the neighborhood playground near Nathan Hale Elementary on South 6th Avenue tried to force me into sucking one of their dicks, practically sticking it in my face to do so. I got away before being truly scarred for life.
But I knew that I couldn’t remember what occurred beyond that, not only for the rest of that day, but for the next three weeks afterward. It had bothered me for years that I couldn’t remember beyond the flash of images I did write down.
Even in writing Boy @ The Window (which thankfully wasn’t about my earliest years growing up), as much as I drilled down into my past, I couldn’t fully conjure the memory of this incident. And when I did try, I ended up inducing headaches.
It was the year after publishing my memoir that I realized my headaches weren’t just because I needed new pillows for my neck. I had a repressed memory, maybe even more than one. I didn’t try to find a way to un-repress the memory, though. I figured that if I concentrated on other memories from the spring and summer of ’76, it would manifest itself, one way or the other. The key was my Big Wheel, the only toy I truly loved growing up, and my first “girlfriend” in Diana, who moved away at the end of first grade. Those memories helped me conjure up the buried memories I needed to fill in the blanks.
Over the course of a couple of weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, I either had dreams or wide-awake flashbacks that filled in my blanks. I was in fact sexually assaulted, by a light-skinned thirteen or fourteen-year-old. With the help of two of his friends, he had gotten his penis in my mouth while I was being held down to the ground on the rain-soaked, asphalt, Nathan Hale playground. I only got away because his friends were laughing after I spit his penis out of my mouth, laughing so hard that they were no longer holding me down.
I did a bit of digging into July ’76. I already knew from my memories it had rained on a Tuesday or Wednesday the week after July 4th. Turns out on that Wednesday, July 14, a quarter-inch of rain fell on the New York City area, as there was thundershower activity and high winds that afternoon, with a high of 78°F. That, unfortunately, confirmed everything.
What I remembered next after was probably just as horrific. I didn’t tell my Mom about my incident for weeks, because I was supposed to stay home while she went to work at Mount Vernon Hospital that day. I did tell her, though, about three weeks later, on the first Saturday in August, as she and my father were arguing as usual. And, my Mom being my Mom, she didn’t believe me, leading to my first attempt at taking my own life. I ran out of 425 South Sixth, straight into the street, and waited to be run down by an older Black guy in a Chevy Nova (more on that at a later date).
But maybe what triggered these repressed memories in the first place was the trauma of losing my sister Sarai in July ’10. After all, that’s also the week I learned that one of my younger brothers had been raped by a short Black guy in his early twenties while pursuing his video game addiction via arcades at the age of nine. As traumatic as that revelation was, it was my Mom’s response that was the most chilling. “It serves you right. I told you to stay away from that man,” my Mom said in response.
Maybe it was too much for my Mom to hear on the same week as her only daughter’s death. Then again, from what I’ve come to remember now, finding out about any one of her children being abused was always too much for my Mom to bear. As for me, knowing the whole truth has made sleeping much easier, my dreams more peaceful, and my headaches all about stress and neck tension.