If I were to write this properly–the story of my life–I would go into detail. Some of that detail would be “true” in the sense that events unfolded in such a way that they can be verified: where I was born (Quesnel, BC), when I first walked (13 months), the first book I ever read (The Lord of the Rings).
The details which would tell you the most about me, however, are the ones which are subjective and refutable. These are the details which mean the most to me: not what really happened, but how it happened to me. The memories are slightly malleable, and stretch to accommodate experience. They are pools to be filled and refilled by a lifetime of truths.
This is true: my sister Emily’s birth was a celebration of life. As a veteran older sister, I got to cut the cord. I remember my father’s hands on mine, gripping the scissors; Emily squirming on my mother’s bare chest, already rooting for a nipple. I remember the resistance the scissors met in clamping around the living, rubbery flesh of the cord, the way the blades clicked together and the pieces separated. This my memory.
What I describe did not “really” happen-at least, not the way I remember it. Emily was born while we were downstairs playing, tired of waiting to welcome her into the world. It is possible that I saw her cord being cut, but I was not the person who cut it. This memory is untrue-in the most literal sense of the word-but it is important to me for a very simple reason: it is the way I wanted things to happen.
This is true: that I felt an enormous sense of responsibility, for my sisters especially, from as early an age as I can recall. One of my clearest memories is of playing in a patch of tall grass behind our house with Jennifer. My father arrived home and decided to pretend that he was a bear. At his growl we froze, and then, as the grass started to rustle, I put my tiny arms around my two-year-old sister and placed my body between her and the most likely point of attack.
Fast forward 14 years: my mother, myself, and Jill have been in a car accident. My mother is hysterical, scrambling up the embankment we plunged over not 60 seconds ago, hoping this highway is not as deserted as it seems. I pull myself out of the passenger window and unfasten Jill’s seatbelt. She is shaking and complaining of thirst as I gather her up and wrap my blanket around her, help her to walk as far from the car as possible before laying her on the ground. When she goes into organ failure 2 days later I worry that my actions are responsible. When I find out she was bleeding into her abdomen I wonder: did I do something to make it worse? When she lives, and recovers, I am sick with relief. During the six weeks that my parents are in Vancouver with her I look after my two remaining sisters with obsessive care.
This is true: that 11 years after this event I am terrified of being left alone. What is also true is that no member of my family leaves a room or hangs up a phone to this day without saying “I love you.”
This is true: I am loved. Perhaps it is the most true of all of my truths. Perhaps there is no other truth.
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