Though our memories have far more in common with a rusty kitchen sieve than a video camera (can you remember what you ate during lunch five days ago?) they do faithfully reproduce our most meaningful experiences. And some of the most powerful memories that continue to influence our everyday thoughts, perceptions and behaviour in subtle, almost inaudible whispers, are those of our first experiences – the powerful emotional highs and lows we encounter for the very first time. And such experiences are few indeed, and neither repetition nor imitation can recreate the very first raw sensory experience that, for better or worse, cut us very deeply.
Vividly, with an instant rebound of emotions – a surge of thrill, a heady burst of longing, or a crestfallen cringe, we easily – too easily – remember the first time we drew very closely to a person and became deeply embedded in his or her presence. It’s the first time, and perhaps the only time, that we realise we want someone more than having something. Or perhaps we remember the first time we were mocked at by others, to be broiled alive by the slights and taunts of those who thought we would never amount to anything much. We remember, always.
Or perhaps as we were growing up, we realise how difficult it is to attain the affections of our parents. We remember the first hurt, the tears and the neglect. That one moment alone in a corner, sad, broken and hollowed out. We may also remember donning the mantle of someone whose influence swept us away – who opened our minds in ways never thought possible, who initiated and reinvigorated us in ways unexpected. We remember, remember, and cannot forget, even if we try our hardest. These first experiences live on in us. They have taken up residences inside us against our will. They define us.
And there they reside: immutable, silent, but omnipresent. They remain unconscious points of reference, a lighthouse of sorts if you will, on how to navigate the past, present and future. Though we are the sum total of all experiences and memories, these particular landmarks, by virtue of being the first to leave such indelible marks and significant scars on us, become the basis – the very first template – we use to gauge everything around us. And they inform us of what might be, could be or should be. Someone who had a great conversational partner begins to look for similar, if not better, features to have in another; Someone who has been abused shuns features reminiscent of the attacker; and so we keep looking, and often we are disappointed.
And that is the curse of our first experiences – they can telegraph expectations, standards and hopes that we might perhaps never be able to match – or perhaps never be satisfied with. But one must admit: whether to sip from the golden cup or to be wrenched down into the spiraling abyss, these first experiences will both instruct and inform us, and sometimes, just sometimes, move us closer to what we really need but never knew was essential. It’s unfortunate that…forgetting is impossible and like the stubborn ripples in the pond, they continue to reverberate away in us. We always remember.
So have you thought (HYTA) about the first time you encountered something emotionally overwhelming?