The most concrete memory I have from when I was smaller than the kitchen counter for some reason occurred to me again today, and I was struck with a realization so profound that I’m still reeling from it.
Once upon a time, there were 5 or 6 yellow, fluffy, and sweetly-singing ‘birdies’ twittering about cheerfully in a cage on a wall. It was a time before tweeting became a silent and isolated online method of gaining false praise and fans, and the noise alone could lighten your heart and brighten your day – until of course you realized that the notes were caged and these birdies may as well have been empty- tweeting without an attention-grabbing hashtag or tag symbol to be seen. They were voiceless.
The cage was quite small (even to me as a 2-3 year old). It hung on a wall that divided the old ‘side garden’ from the ‘main garden’, or our permitted ‘playing’ area, and functioned as a distraction from the forbidden ‘side-gate’ and escape to the main road outside (in a perfectly safe suburban housing estate).
One day, I vividly remember staring up at the birds. I was still FAR shorter than where it hung fastened to the wall, having only just passed the point of needing to be lifted up to poke pudgy fingers between the bars in futile attempts to hold the poor creatures.
This particular day, that was all I wanted. I clearly remember the innocence with which I stared longingly at my ‘pets’. The poor caged creatures; evolved to fly, yet held back by metal bars. I was too young to comprehend this injustice of course, but my intent was simple and clear – to hold one in my hands, and see if the fluffy yellow down was as soft and comforting as it appeared.
Like my friends could pet their dogs. Unlike most kids were allowed to do – I simply couldn’t hold, touch, or interact with my ‘pet’ whatsoever.
So I reached up.
I’d watched my Dad replace their food and water enough times to understand how to open the door.
POOF. A whoosh of air, tweets and feathers about my outstretched arm, and suddenly I was running inside.
‘WHO LET THE BIRDS OUT?”
I had quickly pushed the door of the cage closed and made myself scarce. I knew I’d done wrong. But I somehow didn’t feel guilty about it.
When the empty cage was noticed, I denied knowing anything about the curious disappearance. But as sure as any bird will fly when given the chance, my 3-year-old wobbly chin dimpled, whimpered, and gave me away as I feared for my ice-cream after dinner. I like to think it was to do with an ingrained honesty and incapacity to lie within me, but the truth was as childishly greedy as this, and all I was thinking about was the restriction of my dessert.
I cried like a baby…because that’s what I was.
I cried not out of guilt, nor at the loss of my pets. I cried because I had attracted trouble. I had attracted anger, frustration, and inadvertently made myself the target and origin of the negativity.
When I think about this on a deeper level, and in terms of what little life experience I have now to date, I find it incredible, and extremely telling:
My earliest memory is of releasing caged birds.
Quite literally, letting nature into its natural habitat, and releasing innocent creatures to a life they were born for, instead of caged in a garden, a house…it really does say a lot about me, and about my successes and failures to date.
I never properly believed in the influences of childhood events, environments, and seemingly unimportant occurrences in the past on issues and problems experienced today, yet when I consider this memory and the events which followed in context to today, and how the me of today would deal with them as opposed to how I dealt with them then, I can fully believe that we are the products of our environment. Mannerisms, practices, and personalities to which we are exposed as children become part of us far more easily than those we may attempt to adapt later on in life. Because they are our first experiences, our first time to encounter life events in a certain way….we come to believe that the way they are dealt with then is the ONLY way to deal with them. Anger breeds anger. Anxiety breeds anxiety. Paranoia breeds paranoid and obsessive thought patterns, damaging only when you realize just how much they have influenced you up until now. How much time I have wasted worrying about things that didn’t really matter; anxious to improve, to always be the best, to come out on top, because even though ‘we’ll love you whatever the result’, there was always a larger bowl of ice-cream for whoever came out on top.