All memories are subject to degradation over time. This is an established scientific fact. What science has also discovered is that the memories we have of negative experiences last much longer and degrade much less so than memories not associated with a strong emotional reaction.
My first memory dates back to age two. I know that this event happened before the birth of my sister who was born shortly after I turned three which is why I know I was two years old. I have extremely clear memories of where we lived at the time. I was able to prove that to my uncle recently. He seemed surprised and impressed at all the details I could remember about the area I lived in from age zero to about age three and a half. I can clearly describe the layout of the apartment complex as well as the surrounding properties. Point is, I have clear memories starting from a very young age.
The reason my first memory became my first memory is because it was accompanied by fear and sense of abandonment. It has to do with how a narcissistic mother sees personal affront, defiance, and bad motives when her children disobey her. Childishness is punished as a crime. A child of a narcissist is not allowed to be a child. The strong message is conveyed a thousand ways: if you don't do things perfectly you are a bad person with bad motives and a desire to hurt your mother. Most of us strove to prove to our mothers differently. We over-performed in a desperate attempt to avoid the "bad person" label so easily earned at the slightest offense, the smallest let-down, without even the tiniest bad intention on our part. Over-achieving did not result in banking good will for the future. Oh no, it only allowed you to tread water. Fail in one particular by her subjective and shifting standards and you found your head below water in a moment.
Before I describe my memory I want to ruminate a bit on my mother's extremely consistent view of all children and what it stems from. What I didn't understand at age two, but have much experience and observation on now in my mid-40s, is that my mother's baseline with all children is that they are, each and every one, little criminals. The narcissist mother can never take into account the immature little brains which take many years and much experience to develop. The higher centers of the brain where reasoning and judgment take place are not fully developed until age 25. (This explains a lot of things including car insurance rates!) Yup, science has confirmed this for us. The narcissist mother has no appreciation for the responsibility before her to deal with young and developing minds with wisdom and sensitivity. No, from their earliest moments the children of narcissists are taught that all wisdom and sensitivity are to flow from them to mother dearest. I believe my mother projects onto all children the kind of child she was. Those who study psychopathy have come to recognize that as early as age three the signs of a budding sociopath can be clearly discerned. There are a small percentage of children who seem to be born criminals. My mother assumes the percentage is large...and I now believe it is because she is projecting her own character as a child onto every other child.
My mother told this little story enough times that it stuck. I think it provides a glimpse into how young she was when she was already thinking like a narcissist. The first time I remember hearing it, she was driving with my younger sister and me in the car. She reaches into her purse for a stick of gum. "Oh, look here. I only have one stick of gum. All mine!" And she popped it into her mouth. Then, looking all significant, she proceeds to tell her story. She explains that she could have split that piece of gum into three pieces, but she learned a lesson when she was young...so she recounts a time when she and her five other siblings were traveling with her mother. Her mother reached into her purse and found one stick of gum. Everyone starts clamoring for it. Her mother proceeds to divide that one stick of gum into six pieces and hands out a tiny piece for each of the children...with nothing for herself. My mother could not tell this story without curling her lip in disgust. My mother tells us how she despised her mother's weakness. An actual quote, "I hated my mother for being so weak." Her mother divvied up a piece of gum into so many pieces that it rendered it essentially useless to anyone, she told us. And she deprived herself. For what? So a bunch of whiny kids could be placated? It seemed that the part that most disgusted my mother was the sacrifice her mother was willing to make. Her mother denied her own desire for a piece a gum in an attempt to please her children...and my mother hated her for it. It was perceived by her as weakness. Most would see it as generous. My mother chose to see it as weakness. My mother was still in single digits in age when this happened. This kind of thinking never left her. If resources are limited...mother gets first and best. Period. The criminal mind perceives kindness and generosity as weakness. My mother betrays an aspect of her young criminal mindset. She sets it up before her own children as a virtue. She will never be that weak with us. If she has one piece of gum ... it is all hers. We never dared to complain.
This may not seem like a big deal revelation to you. But it surely was to her. And she made sure it was to my sister and me. Now that I am much older and wiser I see a lot more in this story than she intended to reveal. My mother forever despised her mother's sacrifices...yet that didn't stop my mother from taking advantage of her mother's generosity. She hated her mother's generosity, but depended on it.
Remember those Fisher-Price xylophones? They probably still make them. Here's a pic of the way they looked when I was a kid.
My mother called me to her holding my xylophone in her hands with a look of scary rage bubbling under the surface. I knew I must have really messed up...but what did I do? "Why did you do this??" She is pointing to the side of the xylophone's side label. I was confused at first. She taps her finger on the side impatiently and I can see where I had applied some watercolor paints on the side. "I told you that you are not to paint or draw on anything other than paper. Why did you do this!" I was speechless. It was obvious to me now that I had committed a great sin. I had no excuse for myself. "I didn't know". "I'm sorry". Nothing I could say would save me now. It was assumed that my bit of artwork on the side of my xylophone was an overt sign of defiance by my mother. It was an egregious disregard of her authority and rules that I had dared to veer my watercolors off of approved surfaces. Perhaps I had felt like it was okay to do it since I had restricted my painting to the paper label on the side of the xylophone. I may have understood that by permitting crayons and painting to paper that I was not doing something wrong by using the label for coloring. I don't remember. But I do remember that I had not done it feeling like I was breaking the rules. It was not an act of defiance. It was a childish moment from a childish understanding being given the significance of a criminal act.
My punishment was then dished out. My mother seethed, "I can't stand the sight of you. Go outside and don't come back until I call you." I was thrown out of the apartment door and she threw the lock. What to do now. I cried and sobbed at the door. She told me to go away. I wandered around the apartment premises for what had to have been a long time. I was too young to have a clear concept of time...but it seemed like an eternity. Finally, I thought I had a reason to request entrance again...I had to pee. I knocked on the door. "What do you want" she inquired coldly behind the still closed door. "I have to go potty" I plaintively stated. "I don't care. Go away." I can not describe the vast poverty I felt at that moment. I felt so abandoned and lost. Unloved. All I knew was that I had done something very horrible. So horrible that my mother was throwing me away. I was not sure if I would ever be allowed back into her home. That thought was abjectly terrifying to me. The sense of abandonment and loss was overwhelming. Despair.
I remember wandering around with a painfully full bladder unsure of what to do and how long I could hold it. I held out as long as I could. Finally, because I was not going to wet my pants, I went to the neighboring empty lot in the tall weeds in an attempt to gain a measure of privacy and did the deed.
I know I was let back into the apartment before my dad came home from work. She let me into the apartment but it was obvious I was still in the doghouse. I had to earn my way back into her good graces. I think this story is an example of a disproportionate response.
Did I ever scribble on my toys or any other unapproved surface ever again? Hell, no. I learned that lesson quite early on. I learned to draw within the lines my mother set up very, very well.