Astroturf and applesauce baked in the California sun. Erasers shaped like monkey heads and pens with faces exchanged in tiny hands. A young Sami Kirkpatrick cried for the third time that week after losing knockout…again. He was still years away from coming to terms with his athletic inadequacy.
It was snack time at Crossroads Elementary School and I was in second grade. Or maybe it was lunchtime. And maybe it was third grade. The context is hazy but the memory is still as clear as the decision to fire Tallman Trask should have been.
My friends and I sat around a blue perforated table discussing the things that 9-year-old boys do: What’s better: Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon? Who’s faster in P.E.: Andrew or Matthew M.? Why is Robbie the music teacher the literal spawn of Satan?
It was as the chatter began to fizzle that Josh Rabineau decided to drop the bombshell he had been sitting on since coming to school that day:
“Guys, I learned a new curse word yesterday.”
You see, Josh had a sister who was five years older than him, meaning he was exposed to things much sooner than anyone else in the group. Josh had seen The "40-Year-Old Virgin," an R-rated movie. He also had Halo 3 at his house. The most inappropriate movie I had seen at that point was "Dodgeball" and I only had a Wii.
“What is it?” I asked.
I had heard of the A-word, the S-word and even the F-word before, but this W-word, before even I even knew what it was, seemed to be on a whole other level. After all, W is a much more exotic letter than A or S or F.
“Say it,” said Andrew.
Josh looked around to make sure no teacher could overhear and leaned in closely.
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Upon hearing the new word, the circle of boys became drunk with power, like Gollum in the presence of The Ring. They now knew something that the other kids did not, and at Crossroads Elementary School this was the most valuable of currencies.
“What does it mean?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Josh, “But I know it’s really bad. It’s even worse than the F word.”
That was all I needed to hear. I added the W-word to my verbal arsenal with the intention of using it as soon as possible.
The opportunity presented itself in P.E. a few hours later. We were playing kickball, and I was up. Quite uncharacteristically, I sent the rubber ball flying into left field and while rounding first base I was riding an ego high. But alas, pride would be my downfall, as despite my teammates’ urges not to go for third I proceeded to push my good fortune only to be met by a swift and easy tag out.
Dejected and walking back to the bench, now was my time. I took a deep breath, clenched my fists and stared intensely at the ground:
I muttered it under my breath in the same fashion a more informed individual might say “dammit” or “s**t.”
Immediately a heavy feeling of guilt flooded over me. I had said the W word. I had released its vile filth into the world. What would my parents do to me if they found out? Could I get expelled? I looked around to see if the coast was clear. No one was within earshot. And so right then in that moment I swore to take this secret with me to the grave.
And maybe I would have if it weren’t for a conversation with my roommates a couple of weeks ago which for whatever reason reminded me of this strange story now stored somewhere deep in the annals of my memory. I had repressed it out of fear in my youth and by the time I was old enough to find the humor in its absurdity I had completely forgotten about it. Before two weeks ago, I had never told a single person that story in over ten years.
The thought of losing memories is one that has always frightened me, and it’s moments like these, when seemingly lost memories come back from the dead, that make me realize how much of the record of who I am is stored within the confines my fragile mind. But is this necessarily such a bad thing?
All of freshman year I kept a journal in an attempt not let the little memories slip away. Every night just before I went to bed I would attempt to record everything single thing that had happened to me that day, even the seemingly innocuous occurrences.
I had gotten through a full year of daily journaling when I decided to stop. For me, it wasn’t a healthy or cathartic activity like it is for most people. For me, it was a taxing experience every single day as I became more and more stressed over trying not to forget anything.
I will always feel slightly sentimental when it comes to losing memories, but I’ve come to appreciate the beauty in this experience as well. If we were to remember everything then nothing would be special. And that’s not to say that that which we don’t remember isn’t special either. These memories are in there somewhere and have a funny way of showing themselves when the time is right. Nothing feels better than the spontaneous visit from a long lost memory, even if that memory consists of a 9-year-old you muttering “whore” to himself while sullenly sculking off a kickball field.
Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "worms in space," runs on alternate Fridays.