Natalie Goldberg asks, “When was the first time you were afraid?” It seems like an odd question. I remember being afraid when I was quite young, but was that the first time? Probably not. It’s only the first that I remember.
I was told that when I was a baby, my sister Brenda, one year older than me, tried to tip me out of the bouncy chair that was suspended in the doorway. It probably scared me, but I have no memory of it. Mostly, I was probably afraid that she didn’t like me, as I’ve wanted her approval all of my life. Either way, I don’t remember.
I was likely frightened when I was two years old, and my mother went into the hospital to have another baby. I would’ve been too young to understand much beyond the fact that my mama, who was always there, was not home. I’m sure the world was strange and frightening when she came home from the hospital with an infant…that was very demanding of her time and attention. I don’t remember it, though.
Likewise, I have no memory of going to the Detroit Zoo as a small child. I know it happened, because someone brought a movie camera along. I have seen the giraffes, antelope and exotic birds on the resulting film. It had an impact on me, I’m sure, but I don’t remember it.
The reason that I know the zoo made a big impression is because I remember having a nightmare…about being trampled by elephants. I know my parents both showed up at my bedside. I remember being patted and hugged, and told that everything was okay. “There are no elephants here,” my mother said. That is my earliest memory of being afraid.