No one remembers being born. Certainly no one remembers sliding out of the birth canal, praise God, but that’s not when you were born. That baby cried when it was hungry the same way your car chimes when it’s empty. There’s no one in there, just some sophisticated pre-programming acting without a thought.

You were born later, after you had been taken home, after you had listened for months to Mom and Dad talking over your head, using noises that had a rhythm to them, a music that matched Dad’s comings and goings, that crescendoed and decrescendoed according to the actors who walked across the stage, that had different movements for bowel movements and bath time and dinner time, whose lyrics gradually came into sharper and sharper focus.

You came into existence as you came to understand the song and the dance. You learned the rhyme and the reason. In particular the Reason. You learned your part, but more importantly you learned you could improvise, could choreograph for a world that was malleable to will, to your will. So the lyrics became spells.

But just as you were born into your powers of personhood, you learned their tragic limits. Unable to comfort the woman who had ceaselessly comforted you, you learned the acute discomfort of a loss for words. You learned loss. You learned person-pain. Not hunger pain or boo-boo pain but sadness. You learned that roles could be reversed, when Mom cried, and you held her. As you sat just inside the front door on the mud-crusted mat by the shoes, and waited, and waited, you learned the darkest power of people – the power to disappear. You learned all of this too early, before object permanence had fully set in.

Sorry, don’t let me project onto you. That’s a bad habit of mine.

In any case, if you think you remember your birth you’re fooling yourself. And that’s fine, that’s not uncommon. You’ve been shown pictures, you’ve been told the stories again and again, by grandma until she died, by Mom when she wants to remind you of the unpayable debt between you. But that’s what I’m saying, you remember your birth like you remember something that happened to someone else, by hearsay. In reality you’re remembering something that happened to something else, that happened to no one at all.

If you say your first memory is your first word, I still won’t believe you. But if you say you remember your first sentence, not the one when you mindlessly copied Mom’s baby-talk voice with an even more garbled “Me poopie!”, but the one when you expressed your first original thought, then I’d believe you. Your first thought came after your birth, at the end of the long slide out of the darkness of unconscious, when you crowned in your prefrontal cortex, and gushed afterbirth from your lips. Your mind ate of the residual thoughts, the half-formed ones hanging from the spoken one, and fed your infant personality.

I think the first sentence is important. I think it may say something about you, like a more reliable horoscope. I think everyone should go find theirs out.

“Come back!”

That was your first sentence.

Do you enjoy reading the Nass?

Please consider donating a small amount to help support independent journalism at Princeton and whitelist our site.