Memories Go Cell-Deep
My first husband loved to socialize. He taught art in a high school in a ghetto school district… he was a pacifist, the war in Vietnam was underway, and teaching in an underprivileged area was one way to avoid being drafted. If you worked for the public good in a virtual war zone at home, you wouldn’t have to travel to get shot. He’d trained in art and was well qualified for the position; they were lucky to have him and he spent his entire career there, ending it by developing and overseeing a city-wide mural program.
Teaching in the inner city, though, ain’t exactly non-stressful and he had become, by the time I’d met him, part of a regular after-school Friday-afternoon cadre that hung out together for hours at a not-local bar. They all became good friends and often partied together on week-ends as well, often, at our house. Since I neither drank nor smoked and was the mother of two kids by then, after greeting everyone, I’d usually absent myself to the TV room and settle in with the kids.
One of these Friday nights, one of my husband’s guests popped into the TV room and gestured to me to come over to the door. He had a plate full of goodies and told me that he knew I wouldn’t want the kids having sweets so close to bedtime so he was offering me a brownie sub rosa. A chocolate fiend, I snatched it right up, discretely hiding it in the crook of my arm as I sat on the couch so I could nibble on it while the kids, seated on the floor in their beanbag chairs, were riveted to the screen.
Not long after I finished the surreptitious treat I began to feel very odd and the knowledge of what I’d been eating hit me within seconds: it had been a marijuana-laced brownie!
I felt out of control and I didn’t like the feeling. I HATED the feeling. And I had kids to watch! My husband and his friends were well into both drink and grass by that point so I wasn’t going to get any help there. How could I responsibly attend to my children and their bedtime routine when my head felt like a helium balloon?
The first thing that came to my mind — which was probably not the first thing that would come to most people’s minds in a similar situation — was to call my father. I trusted my father more than anyone else in the world. We’d had a very intimate relationship from before I was even in school… which is a not-too-roundabout way of saying that he’d been engaging me in sex — teaching me, really — since I’d been very, very young. He’d been gentle and patient and loving and had totally screwed me up but I wouldn’t become conscious of any of that until well into my forties. But there I was, in my early 30’s, stoned out of my mind for the first time ever and terrified. He was the only adult person in my life I’d ever trusted so I called him.
He picked up on the first ring. I told him what had happened and that I was terrified and his response floored me.
“Vicki…” he exclaimed, “I’m ashamed of you!”
I was immediately mortified… my beloved father was ashamed of me… but I hadn’t known! It wasn’t my fault. I was speechless… and then the weirdness began.
His next words, which followed quickly and were spoken slowly and with studied gentleness, were, “Relax…. just … relax.”
Like one who has been hypnotized, without saying another word, I hung the phone up, walked slowly upstairs, went into my daughter’s room, and lay down on her bed.
I don’t know how long I lay there before my husband discovered me, but I was still awake.
“What are you doing?” His tone was stern. “You’re supposed to be watching the kids.”
That seemed right and I had no answer for why I was where I was, not for him and not for me. I followed him back down to the TV room and the kids. The rest of that night is a blur.
It would be years — decades, actually — before I understood what had happened. My body had responded to a command it had once heard, possibly when I’d been mildly drugged, by my father, when I was a child. My body heard, “Relax,” and did what she had been taught to do, she lay down in bed… in the child’s bed, the daughter’s bed.
My 40-year-old body had ‘remembered’ that night and had been activated by a command that she recognized from early childhood. She responded exactly as she was supposed to, as a child, going to the girl child’s room, lying there to await her father.
Most of us grow up thinking that it is our minds that remember things for us but, in fact, every cell in our bodies has memory. Our minds can ‘shut down; they can do what we call forgetting but our bodies — for the sake of their very survival — remember everything they have experienced.