When I was a little girl, we lived in Tanzania. I was only four when we went to Tanzania and so the house in Tanzania and the house in Louisville that we lived in before merge together in my memories. Both houses had two bathrooms, but in Tanzania I avoided one of them because it frequently had lizards on the wall. In both houses, I shared a room with my older sister. In the house in Tanzania our room included a small table under the window. On the table I displayed and played with my various small animal figures. Some carved, some plastic, some stuffed. Elephants (or tembos in Swahili) were the majority and many of them became the start of a collection I still have. I also have an aluminum and Formica table from my childhood in my basement. I know it is not the same table as the one in Tanzania, but in my memory it is.
My sister went to school, but I was too young. I went to a pre-school/daycare situation, where I had one friend, a boy named John who gave me my first kiss. But for the most part, I had my animals and my books. In Tanzania, I learned how to read. According to my parents, one day they came into the room I shared with my sister and found me reading, maybe to the animals, maybe to myself. I also learned to swim in Tanzania, in what I think was an indoor pool connected to the university, but maybe not.
One day, we were on our way to swim and I did not want to go. I don’t know why, maybe I was tired, maybe I had something else I wanted to do. Maybe the heat made even going to the pool unattractive. My mother closed the door to the house and realized that she had locked the keys inside the house. We stood outside in the heat while mother debated what to do. Eventually it was decided that I, as the smallest, should climb through the window in my bedroom and on to my animal table. Then, go open the door. I was promised a new book for my efforts.
I remember standing on my table of animals, careful to avoid stepping on any of my friends. I remember wondering what it would be like not to open the door, to just stay there in my kingdom alone, forever. My mother banged on the window and I jumped down and went to open the door. I was soaked in sweat and my mother asked if I was sure I didn’t want to go swimming. I did, but I could not figure out a way to go back on my previous insistence that I did not want to go swimming, and so I said no. The hero of the day, I sat miserably by the pool while the rest of my family swam.
The next day we went to the bookstore. The children’s books they had were imported from England and were color coded for reading level. Supply was spotty and when we went, there were no books in my level. So, I chose this book a level up and from then on, that was the level I read.
I thought of the story of me climbing through the window because yesterday in a parking lot a man was stuck outside his car. The car next to it was parked too close and he couldn’t fit in and was too large to climb over the passenger seat. So, I climbed over the passenger seat and backed his car out for him. It took some doing. The car was so large I had trouble getting in. I was reminded of a boy I knew in high school who drove a red pickup truck and how I would try to gracefully climb into his truck in my late-80s miniskirt. Thankfully yesterday I was wearing leggings.
But I was also reminded of me at five, climbing through a window in a different world. So much is different, so much is the same. I am small, and I can go places others can’t. My pride still gets in my way and often makes me miserable. I have a tendency to want to retreat into fantasy worlds of my own and others’ designs.
All the memories pile up on each other because in the end, we are all just people in the stories we tell.