(a collective memoir)

Found texts assembled by Rolf Potts


Nine.

When I was nine years old I began taking piano lessons. When I was nine years old I got my own library card. When I was nine years old I was diagnosed with lupus. When I was nine years old my daddy ran away with a woman he met on a train. When I was nine years old my family joined a cult my uncle started. When I was nine years old I sang a solo at Madison Square Garden. When I was nine years old I made a peace treaty with the animals. When I was nine years old I wanted to kill myself because I was fat.


When I was nine years old my village was raided by Arab troops in the pay of Khartoum. When I was nine years old we took a trip to Disneyland, and I ended up stuck in the hotel with diarrhea. When I was nine years old I dreamed of becoming a model. When I was nine years old I would rip out photos from cat-themed calendars and try to sell them to strangers. When I was nine years old I received my first pair of shoes from a missionary pilot. When I was nine years old I fell from a swing and injured my spine. When I was nine years old my unemployed parents gave me money for the school book-fair.


I submitted my first poem to American Girl magazine when I was nine years old. I first heard of the Beatles when I was nine years old. I first had an orgasm when I was nine years old. I began work at the mill in Bradford when I was nine years old. I lost my sight when I was nine years old. My mother became my daughter when I was nine years old. My mother abandoned me when I was nine years old. I drank my first beer when I was nine years old. The Messenger of God consummated his marriage with me when I was nine years old. I was sexually abused by my swim coach when I was nine years old. I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was nine years old. I stayed home to watch the first woman go into space when I was nine years old, and it altered the course of my life.


Eight.

I ran my first 10K when I was eight years old. I was spit on by a white girl and called a nigger when I was eight years old. I got a Super 8 camera when I was eight years old. I gave my life to Jesus when I was eight years old. I stole pot from my father when I was eight years old. I shot my first spike buck when I was eight years old. I was diagnosed as clinically depressed when I was eight years old. I started racing in regattas when I was eight years old. I was taken to the temple and dedicated to the goddess when I was eight years old. I had spinal meningitis when I was eight years old. I was compulsively overeating when I was eight years old. I saved my little sister from drowning when I was eight years old. I got my period when I was eight years old.


When I was eight years old my mother died from complications during surgery. When I was eight years old I sold newspapers and worked as a bootblack. When I was eight years old my father gave me a pony for Christmas. When I was eight years old my sister decided I should be a bodybuilder. When I was eight years old soldiers from the junta came to my village and arrested people suspected of being in the resistance. When I was eight years old I was put into a gifted education program and had to attend a new school. When I was eight years old I was placed in a nurturing foster home. When I was eight years old I watched five cops attack my dad.


When I was eight years old I had saved up enough money to either buy a bicycle or a typewriter. When I was eight years old my city in Iraq was attacked by American bombers. When I was eight years old my mom bought me my first Harry Potter book. When I was eight years old my father forced sex on me for the first time. When I was eight years old I started BMX racing. When I was eight years old I had my first colonoscopy. When I was eight years old I started doing commercials for Nintendo. When I was eight years old I tried to kill myself. When I was eight years old my father was blacklisted for communist activities.


Seven.

My brother taught me how to play guitar when I was seven years old. My grandfather gave me a pocket Constitution when I was seven years old. I went to my first peyote meeting when I was seven years old. I started programming games in GW-BASIC when I was seven years old. I was diagnosed with autism when I was seven years old. I had an ischemic stroke when I was seven years old. I started getting high when I was seven years old. I began watching birds when I was seven years old. I took my first cruise from Genoa to New York when I was seven years old. I was inflicted with the pain of foot binding when I was seven years old. I tried to lose my virginity when I was seven years old. I started rapping when I was seven years old. I started playing the banjo when I was seven years old. I started smoking cigarettes when I was seven years old. I started dipping Copenhagen when I was seven years old. I stopped eating chicken when I was seven years old, after my family adopted three hens.


When I was seven years old I put on shows for everyone at my grandpa’s funeral. When I was seven years old I began to work in the cotton fields. When I was seven years old I learned to cook with my Children’s Betty Crocker Cookbook. When I was seven years old my heart began to fail. When I was seven years old my father went to jail. When I was seven years old they removed my right eye. When I was seven years old I saw the ocean for the first time. When I was seven years old I was adopted by my parents. When I was seven years old I had my first Internet boyfriend. When I was seven years old I had my fourth hernia. When I was seven years old I got my first insulin pump, which was purple.


When I was seven years old I went to a sleepover and I was the only Indian girl there. When I was seven years old I watched paramedics perform CPR on my mom. When I was seven years old we lost all of our money. When I was seven years old I received a Casio keyboard from Santa Claus. When I was seven years old I was raped by the woman who lived next door. When I was seven years old my family made me an ant farm. When I was seven years old I made a subconscious decision to believe in miracles. When I was seven years old the hired men who worked for my dad taught me how to drive a truck. When I was seven years old I saw my first public execution, but I thought my life in North Korea was normal.


Six.

When I was six years old my father hit my mother in the head with a shoe. When I was six years old I contracted polio. When I was six years old I was forced to marry an older man. When I was six years old I started telling all of my friends how Jesus walked on water. When I was six years old I had picked off half my eyelashes. When I was six years old my family was sent to a detention camp in France. When I was six years old I went with my family to visit a butterfly museum. When I was six years old I accompanied my aunts to a shrine in the holy city of Qom. When I was six years old I went into a grand mal seizure in the back seat of the car. When I was six years old I felt like a princess. When I was six years old I learned, by the talk around me, that I was a slave.


When I was six years old my nanny recorded a UFO during my birthday party. When I was six years old I began to watch the nightly news with my dad. When I was six years old a German bomb went off just outside our backyard. When I was six years old I took care of our cow and goat. When I was six years old my mother died in a fire. When I was six years old I lost my father in a bicycle accident. When I was six years old I had rheumatoid arthritis in my body. When I was six years old I sprinkled sugar on my head, wished myself invisible, and walked into the boys’ bathroom at school. When I was six years old I was humiliated every day for being hairy.


My parents divorced when I was six years old. My family moved to the United States from Poland when I was six years old. Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old. My mother kidnapped me when I was six years old. I stopped talking when I was six years old. I caught my first trout on a fly when I was six years old. I discovered I had a big penis when I was six years old. I had surgery for intussusception when I was six years old. I realized I was gay when I was six years old. I started hunting with my dad when I was six years old. I learned to play chess when I was six years old. I lost my virginity when I was six years old. I began losing my hair when I was six years old. I began learning English when I was six years old. I was raped when I was six years old, and I got infected with HIV/AIDS.


Five.

When I was five years old my mother told me that happiness was the key to life. When I was five years old a millionaire pedophile adopted me from Russia. When I was five years old my father decided to take his family to the Everglades and stake a claim on an offshore island. When I was five years old my baby sitter was a goat. When I was five years old I made Barbie slap Ken. When I was five years old I wanted to be the voice on the radio. When I was five years old I worried that the Nazis would come through my window to kill me and my family. When I was five years old I started singing in church. When I was five years old my father told me a science fiction story every night. When I was five years old I had cancer. When I was five years old I saw an insect that had been eaten by ants, and nothing but the shell remained.


I met the man I call my dad when I was five years old. I started running away when I was five years old. I learned to surf when I was five years old. I fell in love with dinosaurs when I was five years old. I started collecting stamps when I was five years old. My stepfather committed suicide when I was five years old. My parents gave me a magic chest when I was five years old. I started racing on a Honda XR50 when I was five years old. I started playing soccer when I was five years old. I was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia when I was five years old. Allah converted me to Islam when I was five years old. I started watching Meet the Press when I was five years old.


Four.

When I was four years old my mother owned some tenements in the Bronx. When I was four years old I was brought from Boston to this my native town. When I was four years old my grandfather drove me around Birmingham, saying, “This is where all the niggers and the coons and the jungle bunnies live.” When I was four years old I started my cheerleading career. When I was four years old my then-stepfather took to beating me. When I was four years old I found a shivering baby bunny all alone under a bush. When I was four years old I was molested, first by a neighbor then a member of the family. When I was four years old I knelt down on the floorboard of my dad’s truck and asked Jesus to forgive me. When I was four years old my mother stopped the car a few miles from our house and made me find my own way home.


When I was four years old I wanted to look like the model from the shampoo commercials. When I was four years old I had a cyst the size of a tennis ball on my left lung. When I was four years old I began collecting seeds. When I was four years old my father started sniffing cocaine. When I was four years old I declared that I wanted to be a doctor. When I was four years old my dad shot me up with heroin and I overdosed. When I was four years old I was burned on both my legs and I was in the hospital for three months. When I was four years old I told my mother I wanted to be a girl. When I was four years old soldiers came to our village and shot people and burned our homes. When I was four years old I had to share a cabin with three other girls, and they all knew how to swim. When I was four years old I wanted to be music.


Three.

When I was three years old I told a reporter, “It’s the thing that pumps the love through your body.” When I was three years old I started making candy with my grandmother. When I was three years old my sister helped me knock out my teeth. When I was three years old my mom brought me to my aunt’s house and never came back to get me. When I was three years old my dad cut my drumsticks in half so I could hold them to play. When I was three years old I talked with the angels and fairies without anyone else knowing. When I was three years old my father murdered my mother. When I was three years old my mother took me to a psychologist because I would not speak. When I was three years old I thought winter would never end and I could never go outside again. When I was three years old I said out loud, “I will never die.”


I started singing when I was three years old. I started dancing when I was three years old. I started playing the piano when I was three years old. I started gymnastics when I was three years old. I started skating when I was three years old. I started skiing when I was three years old. I started snowboarding when I was three years old. I started golfing when I was three years old. I started barrel racing when I was three years old. I started reading when I was three years old. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was three years old. I had open-heart surgery when I was three years old. My father got out of prison when I was three years old. I can’t remember when I was three years old, but that doesn’t mean I never was three years old.


Two.

My mom was institutionalized when I was two years old. My dad got me a bikini when I was two years old. My parents played Miles Davis for me when I was two years old. I learned how to write my Chinese name when I was two years old. I almost drowned when I was two years old. I figured out “It’s A Small World” on the piano when I was two years old. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was two years old. I was diagnosed with JRA when I was two years old. I had my right kidney removed when I was two years old. I climbed up the ladder onto the roof when I was two years old. I started wearing glasses when I was two years old. I started on stage when I was two years old, so my earliest memories are of applause and hard work.


When I was two years old my aunt let me ride her Tennessee walking horse. When I was two years old I left Congo for Belgium because of the war in my homeland. When I was two years old I was living in a care center for HIV-infected people. When I was two years old I was kidnapped. When I was two years old I was repeatedly hit on the head with hammer. When I was two years old my father moved our family to the city of Basra. When I was two years old I saw the musical Cats and fell in love with it. When I was two years old I wanted to be a dog.


One.

When I was one year old my mother would chew whatever food she had and give it to me. When I was one year old my father cut me with a sharp blade because I would not stop crying. When I was one year old my parents moved to Watertown, South Dakota. When I was one year old my parents took me to Barrackville, West Virginia. When I was one year old I was adopted and brought to New Jersey. When I was one year old I was diagnosed with juvenile onset diabetes. When I was one year old I was baptized. When I was one year old a Pekinese bit me in the face. When I was one year old I made my first drawing. When I was one year old I drank some bleach. When I was one year old I put a June bug in my mouth.


Begin.

When I was born I was pulled out by a plunger-thingy. When I was born I got my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, both arms, and one of my ankles. When I was born the first voice I uttered was crying, as all others do. When I was born I had a cleft ear. When I was born I had bright blonde hair, but it got darker. When I was born I had purple eyes. When I was born I was put in a crib in a broom cupboard with a cloth over the top. When I was born I became the visible corner of a folded map.


This essay originally appeared in Creative Nonfiction #55, Spring 2015.
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