Friday, as I jogged the Conewago Trail, I recalled a very old memory, perhaps my earliest. It is a reminder of who I have been, and it reveals who I have become.
I remembered the first time I counted to 1000.
I am an insomniac. I always have been. Over the years, I developed ways to make myself sleep well. But I was not always so disciplined. I used to think at night.
I used to enjoy thinking at night.
Thinking to 1000 wasn't too hard. It had just never occurred to me. I knew my numbers -- dad made sure of that with his HP calculator and talk of MIT for me someday. High hopes for a poor immigrant from the third world. Can you blame him? It was the eighties. The Apple II was 9 years old when I was born. When Richard Stallman started GNU, I was one year old.
I don't think I was old enough for school at that time, and I remember very little from the experience. I do remember laying back on the bed and trying to count. Bedtimes were so annoying; at other times I tried to do useful things in bed. I learned to whistle in bed.
I have never had a good memory; too focused I suppose. I always try to clear my mind to think effectively. Memories are just distractions. Sure, I have my set of accepted memories, just like anyone else, but I have blocked out much of my past so I could focus on the present.
But I started counting. 1...2...3...4...5...6.. and onward. I lost my count a few times and started over again a few times. Then I got there, slowly, patiently. 999....1000! I remember being surprised and pleased. I grinned. Until that night, I didn't know all the numbers up to a thousand, but I knew the rules that governed counting to a thousand. By following the rules persistently, I was able to speak numbers I had never even heard.
I was excited like I rarely have been since. Bursting with joy, I could hardly bundle up my excitement in the dark doorway that led to my parents' bedroom. The door was open, as usual, but I didn't dare wake them up. I knew about the black phlegm in the sink, phlegm my dad coughed up after working night shift. At that age, I didn't know what work was, but I knew what it did to my father. I didn't dare wake him up. But I was too excited to sleep.
I stood next to the bed for a very long time, quietly, patiently waiting for someone to wake up so I could tell them. Mom thinks I waited there hours. I do not remember.
She turned over, startled. My face was inches from her pillow.
"Mommy! I just counted to a thousand!" I exclaimed. "Here, listen!"
I don't think I had a chance to recite. It was really a bit too much, after all. Late at night, and my parents' worked all day. Sesame street was one thing, but a thousand?
Why did I count to a thousand at so young an age? Why can't I find such simple pleasure in mental efforts as I did before, laying back in the dark, counting to an unimaginably high number? Why do I think that selling my brain cells is good? Why am I no longer as polite as I was 15-17 years ago, unwilling to wake my parents, but unwilling to keep a slice of joy to myself?
I may be productive. I can now chomp hard on the bit they give me and follow my profs' and my employers' leads. Sometimes, they're challenging and fun, like my current job. But why must I now distract myself when I go to bed?
When I come to the highest number: 1000, 2000, 40,000, what next? Infinity stretches forever beyond. My efforts just remind me of my own futility.
But where are the childhood dreams?