My first memory is of drowning. I was three years old.
We lived in Long Beach, California, and my mother took my older sister and me to the beach nearly every day. I didn't know how to swim yet, but I was too young to know I didn't know how to swim, so I walked off over the dunes and into the ocean.
The water was lovely. I sank. My diaper filled up with sea water and helped sink me like a toddler stone. I rolled around in the wet blue world. I saw a bright pink anemone waving its silky tentacles. It was funny. Light like rain fell through the water. I wasn't afraid. It was too beautiful. I don't remember my lungs filling, and if they did, I didn't struggle at all, just floated and rolled and drifted in the buoyant silence.
Then came the grabbing and pain. My father lifted me up and carried me to the beach. Surrounded by a circle of yelling people, I was terrified. Spears of fire spread through my chest. I wanted to go back into the ocean. It felt better there.
Another early memory: I ate almost a whole bottle of aspirin when I was four. My mother had left the house to talk with the neighbor across the street. I looked out the window, saw them standing on the lawn. I quickly dragged a chair over to the cupboard, took down the Bayer aspirin bottle and ate as many as I could before my mother came back into the kitchen and figured out what I had done. I remember her being calm, and she was not a calm person. Then my father came home in the middle of the day, which was really odd, and said we were going to the park with the merry-go-round. I was so excited! This was special. So when I ended up at the hospital on the hill with a team of doctors and nurses dressed in weird green outfits and gloves and masks, strapping me onto a board and shoving tubes up my nose and mouth, I screamed and screamed. Afterward, I wouldn't accept the lollipop the doctor wanted to give me, and I was furious at my father. The beginning of betrayal.
My third earliest memory: I was five. I was sleeping on my stomach, and someone came into the bedroom I shared with my older sister and stabbed me in the back, the knife going straight through my heart and into the mattress. I screamed like bloody murder because it felt like bloody murder. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on my father's lap in the living room. My mother sat in the chair beside us, smoking a cigarette. In the dark of the room, I could feel the lateness of the hour, just one lamp on, making the rug and curtains glow. I had never been up that late before, and it was strange and wonderful. Just the three of us, sitting quietly in the middle of the night. I don't remember if I told my parents about my nightmare, but I remember pointing out the fish in the air around us. Colorful, neon-fish swimming in the pool of living room darkness. It was fantastic.
What do these first memories mean? I don't know. I know I loved living by the sea with my parents and older sister and a parrot who swore in Spanish. In the little bungalow surrounded by palm trees on Lanai Street.
And this: I was so young, I never thought about God, but the day I almost drowned, I knew the dark sea loved me.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society