The earliest memory of love I have occurred when I was five. My best friend at the time was a little girl whose family lived around the corner from me. As best as I can recall, her name was Helen and she was Greek. In later years I would have a relationship with another woman called Helen who also was Greek. That relationship turned out to be a significant one for me which affected my life greatly.
I mention this because there is always a chance my mind has retrospectively attributed a name and ethnicity to a little girl who may have had a different name and country of origin. The mind is tricky like that. What I do recall, is that her family and my family spoke different languages. I have a memory of my parents speaking to her parents and not understanding the language. And when all said and done the name and country of origin are not particularly important as they only provide a little bit of a backdrop to the remainder of the anecdote.
As a five year’s old little boy, I remember that I used to eagerly call on Helen’s place every morning before school. Sometimes, Helen would be late and still eating breakfast to which I have a very vague memory of her mother telling her to hurry up. I also have a vague recollection of her mother offering food when I would visit there. Helen and I would walk to school together each morning. I do not have a memory of what we talked about, but do have an image of us talking and smiling. All pretty sweet and innocent stuff.
I also recall how my body felt around Helen. It was tingly and warm, it felt good to be around her and being around her was something I liked a lot. It’s the physical sensation more than the cognitive or emotional states experienced as a child that really cause me to believe I loved Helen. I might not have loved Helen in a romantic sense, but I did love her in the sense that there was a connection there. A connection I would feel in my physical being to which I now equate to as a form of love as my adult self.
Growing up was not a great experience for me and I often was not connected to my body. I seemed to live out of my body as much as I lived in it. But this memory is one of the few I have of being connected to my feelings which then extended outward to another being called Helen.
One day as Helen and I got grew closer and were becoming almost inseparable, we began to walk to school innocently holding each other hands. My uncle and a family friend who was living with our family at the time, teased me. They were teasing me about having a girlfriend. My uncle and family friend were having a bit of fun – there was nothing malicious about their teasing, it was fairly innocuous in the grand scheme of things. I do not hold any ill feeling towards them. I understand that perhaps they went a little overboard in their teasing and were a bit unconscious to its effects on me, but I do understand they intended no harm. Aside from that it was likely that I would have been teased sooner or later from other sources, e.g .school mates. Another interesting recollection is how segregated school life was even during the first weeks of school, boys played cricket, girls played rounders and never the two shall meet. So Helen and I did not do a lot of socializing at school, it was before school and after school that we seemed to connect.
Despite the innocuous nature of the teasing, I remember vividly the effect of it on my being. As a child I got angry and felt humiliated at the teasing. In the kitchen of our home in Brunswick the shame and humiliation was enough to really want them to stop. But being a child, I had no power to make them stop. I felt out of control of the situation as a little child.
I would no longer walk Helen to school, in fact as best as I can remember I never spoke to her again.
In case you miss the point, it was a way for a little child to take control of a situation since he did not want to experience it again. This occurs at a unconscious level not a conscious one which is important to bear in mind.
The real key is that I felt overwhelmed as a child. As a consequence I shut myself down, which was readily observable in the real world as a distancing from Helen. Despite the innocuous nature of the incident it’s as real a trauma as when someone violently hit me as a child. It is the sense of being overwhelmed and feeling out of control which is central to trauma.
One of the common perceptions is that we have to have insight into the memory which in turn fixes it. Insight is very overrated. This becomes increasingly clear as we get to know ourselves and how we work. It is even more highlighted when working with trauma.
It is that the memory has to be processed in a specific way which in turn releases the memory from a fixed in time memory to a normal narrative memory. Most traumatic events are fixed in the mind, unaltered by the passage of time. It is the physiologic fixation which needs to be processed at a physiological level. The emotional and cognitive components make up far less of the trauma than is popularized.
I will write on trauma in a more in depth fashion in an upcoming series of articles. For now, just recognize that the seemingly innocuous can affect us greatly. Further it’s prudent to note that this one incident in isolation did not determine how I would react in future relationships. Yet it is part of the picture and a part of how early childhood events can impact on adult life.
I sometimes think of that little girl who was my best friend. Even though I can barely remember her face, I hope that these days it’s a face with a big smile on it. I hope that life has been kind to her.
Do you remember your first experience of love?
What did you feel physically? What were some of the positive things you got out of that experience? What sorts of messages, both positive and negative did you receive as child? Can you see how it may have affected you in later life?