Good or bad, they have the ability to influence your direction in life, your personality, and your character. Memories can be delightful, warm and tender. Or they can be hurtful, embarrassing, or any other variety of emotions on the list.
One of my childhood memories is shameful to recall. It’s a memory I think about often, as it involves a person I love very much. Given her disability, she does not remember the incident at all. But I remember it clearly.
There are a few people on this planet who touch my heart deep down. One of those people is my little sister, Janny. She was born with a chromosomal disorder, trisomy 14. Her doctors didn’t know what cognitive or developmental delays she might have growing up, because trimsomy 14 was relatively unheard of at the time of her birth. And so my parents started out on an adventure of raising a little red-headed infant who appeared to be full of personality, but was very slow to nurse, crawl, speak, and eventually walk.
Janny was born three years after me. As we grew older, and she began to go to a special school for children with disabilities, a new sense of responsibility for her protection grew in me. It was obvious that she was vulnerable, and I didn’t like that. Occasionally I found other school kids making fun of her, and although she didn’t understand what they were saying, she understood their intent. I became good at making sure they didn’t bother her again. After school and on weekends, we would play together. She was little and loved it when I would swing her around or rest her on my feet as if she were an airplane. She wasn’t like my other sisters and I, but she was special and I loved her.
Which is why I feel compelled to write about this shameful memory of mine. I was 9. It was my first season of Bobbysox softball. My dad had bought me this huge wooden bat that was 35 inches long. (I think they still have it.) It was almost as tall as me, but it was the only bat we had. One day I was working on my batting in the front yard. I loved sports at the time, and was very motivated to be a better softball player. I had a big, hard softball in one hand and the giant bat in the other. I was standing in the driveway, facing the yard parallel to my parent’s house. Janny and my dad were both outside, working in the garage. I looked around and noticed that they weren’t too close to where I was batting. I threw the ball in the air and swung. Missed. The ball fell to the ground. I picked the ball up. This time I threw the ball higher and watched as the ball came closer to me. I clutched the base of the bat tightly with both hands and prepared for a grand slam. I swung with all my might in order to give that heavy wooden bat some velocity, but I didn’t hit the ball. Instead, I hit something else. I turned sharply as I heard a loud shriek and a desperate cry. Behind me, Janny was doubled over, wailing while holding her face. In horror I gasped as I realized the damage I had caused her. Dad came rushing over and saw the huge bat-shaped mark on her cheekbone. “Mary!” My dad yelled urgently toward the house where my mother was. She appeared at the door and came running outside when she saw Janny. And before I knew it, they had put my sobbing sister in their Oldsmobile station wagon and rushed off for the emergency room.
As what I had done to my poor sister sunk in, it shames me to say that I was only thinking of my punishment. Sure, it had been an accident, but I should have been more careful in choosing my place to practice batting. I recalled my mother’s words to me earlier that day, “Emily, be careful where you practice your batting!” It overwhelmed me to think that I, Janny’s older sister, had probably managed to fracture her cheekbone. Nothing like this had ever happened in our family. I couldn’t even begin to think about what the consequences might be. I went into my room and started sobbing, not for my sister, but for my sorry old self. A little later my older sister came in the room and, true to her firstborn tendencies, reprimanded me for feeling sorry for myself. She was right, but I wasn’t listening. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.
Hours later mom and dad arrived back home from the emergency room with Janny. She was feeling better. She still had a huge mark on her face. Mom and dad said that her cheekbone was, indeed broken. But she didn’t need any bandages on her face or splinting to keep her jaw immobilized. As I recall, mom and dad gave her some mild pain relievers for a week or two and all was well.
What’s odd is that to this day, I don’t remember if mom and dad ever punished me for fracturing my sister’s cheekbone. They might have. But it obviously didn’t stick in my brain very long. What did stick out was the fact that when I should have been protecting my sister; when I should have been only thinking about her safety and health, I was instead thinking about me.
Which is why I believe that memories, whether good or bad, often serve a purpose. Without this memory I wouldn’t be so careful about protecting my little sister today. And so as ashamed as I am to recall it, this memory has served a good purpose in my life after all.