I call them sense memories because I don’t have any other word for them. They are moments engrained in me…not even memories really, because I don’t think about them…I don’t remember them. I smell them. I taste them. I hear them. They’re just irrevocably there--fixed on my senses like nuclear-etched shadows on the walls in Nagasaki.
I remember the first time I drove our three-wheeled ATV in 5th gear; pulling my lips in from an ear-to-ear grin over teeth that were suddenly dry…and cold, as created wind licked summer sweat from my hairline and the back of my neck, and knowing what it would feel like to fly.
I remember one crystal windchime of laughter that sort of shimmered in the air for stretched-out seconds after a piece of angel hair pasta had flicked my nose during dinner in a warm Italian restaurant…like that one magical laugh from the girl standing next to the white fireplace mantle at the beach house in All the King’s Men.
I also remember being smacked from behind by the explosive, wrenching, metallic scream of a minor fender-bender in our 15-passenger van—a sound utterly absent from the memory of an earlier accident that could have killed me.
I remember deep, un-crushable softness under my hands on my lap the first time I wore my velvet “baptism day” dress, and tiny needle-teeth squirming deep in the muscles of my right hand for days after the first (and only) time I disregarded Dad’s warning about fiberglass and gloves.
And I remember the taste of Mediterranean sea salt caramel gelato slipping over the different zones of my tongue the day we got Michael his first French-cuff shirt.
I’m intrigued that so few of these experiences are visual, tied to what I would consider my dominant sense. I’m puzzled that they can be so vivid, so visceral, without being connected to any particularly intense emotion. And I’m pleased that some of these memories are so recent—that my senses can still be stunned by bursts of wonder.