I Remember

by Linda Briskin

I remember the first time I floated free in a swimming pool. My partner Edith, herself a mermaid, had taught me to swim after two years of torturous lessons. I was forty-six.

For most of my life I’d been terrified of the water. As a very young child, I was dropped in a lake by a cousin. At least that was the family story, or perhaps I imagined it. Makes no sense that being dropped once and rescued quickly would lead to decades of panic around water. As a kid, I couldn’t cross a bridge without crouching down behind the seat and covering my ears and eyes. Maybe there’s another story.


I remember learning to read the very instant the teacher showed us the rainbow-colored train of letters.  I swallowed the alphabet whole like a bowl of Alpha-Bits Cereal.  I’m charmed by this memory, certain my obsession with words started with that first-grade experience.

I remember the day I got glasses and the world came into uncomfortable sharpness. I was six.

I remember the aroma of sweet yeast from the Wonder Bread factory down the street.  My mother would order a single loaf sliced horizontally, fill the layers with egg, tuna, and salmon salad, and ice it with cream cheese dyed green.

I remember my grade two teacher letting me help after school. I loved her. She was so kind to me.

Did she see a sad child, a precocious mind or just a helper willing to grade math tests? One day I stayed too late and got lost in the dark. I couldn’t find the bus stop. Was I really taking a bus by myself when I was seven? I remember knocking on a stranger’s door. Perhaps I asked if I could live with them. Perhaps they walked me to the bus stop. My mother was ferociously angry when I finally got home.

I remember the community library in the small white church perched on a rise. I could see it from blocks away—a beacon. The miracle of shelves filled with books, the kindness of librarians. A place of rescue.

I remember my fascination with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I wondered if all closets held secrets.

I crouched down in the corner of my bedroom closet touching each flat white wall carefully, looking for a hidden door, a bell or a handle, hoping against hope to find a way to Narnia. The surfaces were blank and smooth. I dragged a chair over to reach above the shelf. Nothing. I tried again with my eyes closed, moving my hands very slowly and wishing hard. Nothing. I waited in the corner, arms circling my knees, making myself as small as possible, sitting as quietly as I could. Nothing.

I remember sitting on the floor, watching The Lone Ranger on our small 1950s TV. I was eight when the show ended in 1957.

The Lone Ranger’s identity was concealed by a mask. He was dedicated to justice, often outside the law. The show was enthralling, echoing my inclination for secrecy, my desire to hide, and my hatred of bullying. It likely prompted my fascination with masks.

Later, much later, I took thousands of photographs of the masks for sale everywhere in Venice. I learned that in seventeenth-century Venice, the wearing of masks was associated with disguise and secrecy. During the recent pandemic, masks offered safety but also camouflage and invisibility.

I remember The Avengers, Emma Peel in her sleek blackness, tough and smiling. She was powerful, calm, certain, an expert in martial arts and capable of defending herself and others, a scientist, a mistress of disguise. I wanted to be her. It was 1961 and I was twelve. Often, my father wouldn’t let me watch The Avengers.

He’d say, “You can’t watch that program!”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because I said so.”

I learned about arbitrary authority from him. 


I remember embracing winter: ice skating on a swamp in the back country, tiny etched animal tracks the only company. Cross country skiing through the woods on fresh powder snow, the sky blue and empty.

I remember the feeling of betrayal. He gave me a lapis pendant on my birthday, and then admitted to a six-year affair. My heart turned cold. How was it possible I didn’t know? Perhaps I wanted to believe the story we told about our ten-year relationship. We are meant for each other. I never wore the necklace.

I remember my first glimpse of a Joshua tree, its stunted shape and twisted branches from a world already past the apocalypse. Frida Kahlo titled a 1934 self-portrait “Appearances can be deceiving.”  She was right about appearances. The tiny female yucca moth, less than one inch long, nests in the Joshua Tree and pollinates its flowers. The Joshuas could not grow without her help.

I remember learning the 108 moves in the Tai Chi set, a particular torment for me,  dyslexic about direction and spatially disoriented.

Perhaps the names of the moves inspired, comforted and calmed: stork cools wings, parting wild horses’ manes, wave hands like clouds. A prose poem.

I remember my first slow dance with a woman—a revelation.

I remember discovering creative nonfiction: a lyrical way to combine politics and poetry, science and paradox, certainties and doubt, old photos and imagined memories. The play with words and images unlocked a plethora of stories.

I remember when I first heard the Bach suites for solo cello on the radio. Mesmerizing. The next month I began a relationship with a cellist. We’ve been together for twenty-eight years. On my birthday, she plays one of the six Bach suites for me.

Perhaps there was a connection between hearing the suites and finding the cellist.

I remember the concrete boat launch on Cayman Brac littered with old plastic bottles, Styrofoam food containers, a single pink flip-flop, a torn shirt. In our flippers and snorkel masks, Edith and I slipped into the other world of moray eels, pink swaying coral and schools of angel fish.

I remember.


This piece was written before I learned about I Remember (1975) by Joe Brainard. Its discovery inspired me to delve deeper.

Linda Briskin is a writer and photographer. Her CNF bends genres, makes quirky connections and highlights social justice themes—quietly. In her fiction, she is drawn to writing about whimsy, fleeting moments, and the small secrets of interior lives. Her writing has recently appeared in Fictive Dream, Wild Roof, Barren, *82Review, The Schuylkill Valley Review, Canary, and Cobalt Review. https://www.lindabriskinphotography.com/pdf/writing.pdf