Tracy Crow Marine Veteran and journalist
My students were quietly creating timelines of their lives during a recent memoir class when a visibly frustrated freshman piped up. “What if you don’t have any memories before the age of ten?”
Her fellow students abruptly stopped recording the most memorable moments of their lives to look up for my reaction. “No memories of anything?” I asked. Nada.
Turns out, she was in her early teens when her parents suddenly realized she had no memory of life before ten. No memories of birthday parties or vacations or former teachers or of learning to ride a bike. Nothing. I was intrigued. As a writer, especially as a memoirist, I couldn’t imagine a life without memory. I couldn’t imagine relying on the memories of others — a brother, a cousin, a so-called friend — to supply the details of who or what I was before the age of ten.
Soon after, came my own dilemma. I was working through revisions of a memoir about my life as a Marine during the 1980s when I located, through a social networking site, the Marine who had been my first journalism instructor, my first editor. My shortcomings as a journalist had annoyed him on many occasions, and he returned my early story drafts in a sea of red ink, as if he’d bled himself out in anguish, disgust, or protest. He never gave up on me, however. I never gave up because he never gave up. The rest, as they say, is history.
Twenty-plus years later, I e-mailed him, excited to update him about the memoir and the role he had in shaping my life as a teacher and writer. He didn’t remember me. For a moment, I thought he was joking. My next e-mail included specifics of our Marine life together at Camp Lejeune, of the other Marines with whom we worked, of the day he and our officer-in-charge called me behind closed doors with news from the Red Cross that my father lay dying in a North Carolina hospital from burns he’d suffered in a car accident. He still didn’t remember me.