When I was 2, I wrote my name, or a form of my name, for the first time. Proud of myself, I carried the paper into the living room to show my parents. Because I had never printed anything before, let alone written something with connected letters, they believed that one of my older brothers must have done it. Determined to show them, I placed the paper on the floor. I then positioned myself on the floor by the paper, and with pencil in hand, I scrunched my eyes, stuck my tongue between my teeth and proceeded to write my name. Not print, but actually write my name.
This little gambit earned me the right to start accompanying my mother to the local library. At first, my mother and the librarian selected the most juvenile of books for me (you know the type—all about Dick, Jane and a dog named Spot). By the age of 3, I had grown beyond these basic word books and eagerly began seeking out every fairy tale book that I could find. I read Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, Golden Books, Tales from Sweden, and a compilation of English and Irish fairy tales. However, none of them was exactly “right”. I wasn’t articulate enough to be able to explain why they were unsatisfactory; I just knew that somehow, in some way, they weren’t the fairy tales I was looking for.
I became “obsessed” with finding the correct version of fairy tales. All of these that I had read so far were close, but somehow they had always lacked that familiarity, that feeling of completeness or rightness. The settings were always close, but not quite right, just as the characters were there but the names were wrong. Many times, it was simply that the cadence of the words in the story were wrong, and I would become frustrated and angry because I lacked the capacity to explain to anyone just why I was so frustrated.
The day before my 4th birthday, my mother and aunt took me to the BIG city. We were going to eat lunch in a fancy restaurant (my aunt worked there, which was why we could afford to go there), and then we were going to see a stage version of Cinderella. As we walked from the train station toward the restaurant, we passed a huge bookstore. I had never seen so many books—not even in our local library. You see, we lived in a small town and, consequently, our library was small, therefore the space allotted to the children’s section was tiny. But this building was several stories tall and at least a block square, and each window was just overflowing with books.
After fussing and whining about it being my birthday, my mother and aunt finally gave in and we went inside. It took several moments for my eyes to adjust to the low light inside, but when they did, I continued to stand in the middle of the doorway, too stunned to move. The store was even larger than I thought, and there were books everywhere. Just ahead of us was a row of very large tables on which were stacked piles of books. Beyond that were rows and rows of floor to ceiling bookcases whose shelves were loaded with colorful books.
I was overwhelmed. My mother tugged at my hand and we stepped into this wonderland of books. We wandered through the maze of shelves until we found a place where the bookcases were shorter and the furniture not so majestic. Here I gazed at the myriad of titles spread before me until my eyes found one very thick volume. Something about that book called to me—my mother always insisted it was simply the colorful cover, but I think it was more than that.
When my eyes found that book, they never left it. I walked as if in a trance, heading straight for the bookcase with that thick tome. Standing on tip-toe, I reached up to the top shelf where the book stood and, using both hands, I pulled that book to me. Carefully I placed that book on one of the small tables and, hands trembling and breath held, I opened it to the first story. I scanned that story, then the next, and the next. Then eyes bright, I clutched the book to my chest and refused to give it up. This was the book I had been looking for. Each story was just as I “remembered” it—where the princes had names like Ivan and Igor, and the princesses were named Nadia and Natasha; the castles all had onion-shaped domes on their towers, and the winter scenes were described as mystical and magical with ice-draped trees and beautiful flowing fields of white.
What I had been missing with all those other books of fairy tales was the familiarity, and I had finally found it. These were the fairy tales of my past—a past spent in the Ukraine. What I had finally found in this huge book store wasn’t just a compilation of every Russian fable and fairy tale, but more, it was a link to a past life memory.
As a child of 3 and 4, I didn’t fully understand the need, the compulsion to find the “right” fairy tales. However, as I grew older and looked at or leafed through my Russian book of fables, I came to understand that I had been looking for something based on a past life memory; a memory that surfaces and seeks validation. However, unlike most children who are not allowed to believe in past lives or other non-Western beliefs, I was able to validate my memories by finding that book and getting my aunt to buy it for me. Most Western children learn to repress these memories because they are told that what they think is a memory is nothing more than an over-active imagination. It’s too bad that so many in our society are so frightened by what they don’t understand, or don’t want to understand.
I know (at least intellectually, if not emotionally) that it’s part of the cycle of life, that people need to forget about their pasts or they can’t live the life they’re in currently (or at least not as fully as they chose to). However, I still empathize with those children who are only seeking to validate something that they feel or sense about themselves, because it’s hard enough to be a child. But being a child unable to validate something inside of yourself, is doubly tough.