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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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The Cry of the Gull
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I have strange memories of my early childhood. It’s just chaos in my head, a series of completely unrelated images, like film sequences edited together with long strips of blank film, giant lost spaces.

My life up to age seven is full of gaps. I only have visual memories, like flashbacks, images whose time-frame I can’t place. I believe there was no sense whatsoever of time progression in my mind during that period. Past, future, everything was on the same time-space line. Mother would say yesterday, but I didn’t understand where or what yesterday was. Tomorrow had no meaning either.

And I couldn’t ask what they meant. I was helpless, completely unaware of time passing. There was daylight and the darkness of night, and that was it.

I still can’t assign dates to things during the period from my birth to age seven, or arrange what I did in chronological order. Time was in a holding pattern. I just experienced things as they happened. Maybe there are memories buried in my head, but I don’t know in what order they happened or how old I was. I can’t place them. As for events—or should I say situations or scenes because everything was visual—I lived each as an isolated experience, in the present. That’s why, in trying to reassemble the puzzle of my early childhood so I could write about it, I found only fragments of images.

Other perceptions dwell in a turmoil that is out of memory’s reach. They’re locked in that period of solitude, behind that wall of silence, when words were mysterious and language was absent. And yet I was able to manage. I don’t know how I did, but I did.

“Sitting up in your bed,” my mother tells me, “you’d see me disappear and come back, to your amazement. You didn’t know where I’d gone. To the kitchen, perhaps. I was two distinct images, Mommy disappearing and Mommy coming back. And there was no link between the two.”

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