Author Jalynn Harris (bottom) sits with her brothers at their old house on South Augusta Avenue in Irvington in the ’90s. Photo courtesy of Jalynn Harris.

In my earliest memory, I am crawling. The carpeted church steps are the red of communion blood. The bottom-of-the-shoe-smell of the carpet is not as loud as the laughter coming from the kitchen. One tiny arm reaching out, supported by the opposing leg, the reward of another step down. Slowly, I move on all fours, beckoned by the voices in the kitchen. I see only what is in front of me and no further. Only the red of the carpet; the brown of my tiny fists. At the bottom, I am scooped up into someone’s arms. We enter the shower of fluorescent lights and Sunday potluck laughter.

I am guilty of having vivid dreams. Of waking up with a cut on my arm earned in a desperate battle fought in the dream world. Which is to say, my earliest memory might just be a dream. The stuff made of recurring images in the heat of sleep. For a school assignment in the 4th grade, we were tasked with writing about our earliest memory. When I got the assignment, I was conflicted because I had two very distinct early memories – the first, which is in question, occurring within the first year of my life; and the second, at age three, when I met my childhood best friend outside my old house on the 4100 block of South Augusta Avenue in Irvington.

I was sure that the age three memory was real because I knew Kalyn and had done the evidential research of asking our mothers at what age we met. But, the first memory, my early early memory, seemed off. What I did know was that the church was a real place – it’s still on Edmondson Avenue, at the top of a very narrowly abrupt hill made parking lot, only a quarter mile from Beechfield Elementary. And we had gone to church there when I was a baby. But something about the memory felt out of focus. Like the camera of my eye refused the simple gesture of one finger gently pushing down on autocorrect. And like a muddy dream, I chose to fill in the frames of silhouettes and call them people. In the 4th grade, the memory made me uncomfortable. Primarily because it was too weird. Too weird to remember crawling down red carpeted steps on all fours. Too weird to recall the period before my bipedal awakening.

Now that I am older, my suspicions about the factuality of the memory have grown. There is simply too much emotion. I cringe: my baby body alone and sliding narrowly, concertedly down a carpet of steps – exhorted by the sounds of other people enjoying one another in a far off room. It’s the stuff charged with the subconscious metaphor of REM sleep. It’s the stuff revealing young, subconscious limiting beliefs.

Google says you can’t trust your memories. Especially if they’re young memories. Apparently, studies show the earliest we develop the facilities to store long-term memories is around age two and half. And that there’s this thing called “infantile amnesia,” which kicks in around age seven and persists throughout the remainder of childhood. It’s a fancy phrase for “you won’t remember your youth.” And likely, instead of remembering, four out of 10 people will invent memories, making it highly likely that your earliest memory is a fabrication of your own emotional imagination combined with the visual material of your youth.

I don’t know what to believe. For one, I do know that I have a very poor memory. In most of my re-tellings – as near back as high school or as distant as childhood – I rely heavily on other people to help me fill in the gaps.

Case and point. Recently, at a birthday party, someone asked, “What’s the worst prank you’ve ever pulled on someone?” Well, I confessed, once I changed my name in my best friend’s phone to her crush’s name and texted her all day. Everyone laughed, hahah, you’re so evil. Yeah, and for some reason she’s still friends with me. Later, when I told my best friend how I told that story at the party, she corrected me. No, Jalynn, you forgot the part where we were in the car together the whole time. Yikes, I thought, it was worse than I remember.

Now that I am older, I see the metaphors in the crawling. How emotional loneliness has persisted in me since I was a child. Me, crawling towards connection, desperately. My solo journey downward. My inability to see that someone is waiting for me at the bottom of the steps. Because I cannot walk, I crawl. Which makes me positionally unlike everyone else in the dream memory.

It makes me wonder. If my first real memory is outside my first home – the light of early morning shining like a gold coin; my childhood best friend toddling out her family’s black minivan towards me; our shy introduction; us entering my home together to play – why have I carried this dream memory on my chest like a badge? It is fake. Usurped by the imagination of my emotional loneliness – which is real and must be honored, but perhaps is not the fated beginning of myself; not fixed, nor promised, nor deserved.

It makes me wonder. If my first real memory is one of receiving friendship, where I am upright and walking, where the day is an invitation of color, then perhaps, I have the right to leave the dream memory and its emotions behind; discarding it into the leaves of my childhood. Alongside the church – its carpet red as blood.

Come December, all I want to do is remember. In the last days of the final month of 2022, I can almost feel the year hurling itself away and into the future. I desperately want to hold on. To add another day to another month as an opportunity to prove to myself that I’ve done something worthwhile this year. But time doesn’t work that way. It asks us to experience the present, knowing that it too soon will be past. And what remains is not so much the facts of when and where, but the emotions of how and who.

In my compulsive need to reflect, I ask myself, what will you remember about this year? I’m not sure, but I do know it’s likely I’ll remember the emotions. And the lessons I learned about home.

  • I thought my fated loneliness required me to keep home with someone, but I’ve found that connection is my fate; and also, I have a deep desire to keep home as my own autonomous creation.
  • I thought I wanted a home without pets, but a pet is the ultimate homie.
  • I thought I had to have a perfect home to let anyone in, but turns out I can invite people in to help me keep my home.
  • I thought a home was the same as a house or an apartment but no, a home is someplace, any place I cherish.
  • I thought friendship, romance, and love, were tenets of a home, and turns out, I’m right.
  • I thought home was a building, but the park, the street, the traffic and the trees outside are also my home.
  • I thought home was a building, but my body is my home too.
  • I thought a home was happy when free of the visual noise of clutter, and I know I am happiest then.
  • I thought a home was not something I was strong enough, wealthy enough, carpentry-savvy enough to make. But I’m finding that I am enough for my home.
  • I thought that if I were to be alone in a home, I would be restricted to aloneness. But my home is constantly full of the upkeep and morale of my community and loved ones.
  • I thought because home is sacred, that it is bent towards being kept private. But a home as a secret is as painful as an emotion that is a secret. And I must share my home, I must share my emotions, or else either or both will become unviable; unsustainable.

Recently, I wrote a haiku about Druid Hill Park. I consider Druid Hill Park to be my home, too; it is the place I walk nearly every day; the lighthouse just outside my window:

Gold rust on the gate
the lake driving out like wheels
home: a park with hills.

Jalynn Harris (she/they) is a writer, educator, and book designer from Baltimore. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Feminist Studies, Poem-A-Day, The Hopkins Review, The...