Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

When Your Brain Scrambles a Memory

Was it really gold lamé?

Dawn Downey
3 min readAug 5, 2023


When I was a kid, I got locked out of our East 15th Street house. My sibs were asleep; I was in pj’s, hanging out on the screened-in front porch with the bratty neighbor girl. After our usual argument, I opened the door to go back into my house.

Bratty reached around me, pushed the lock button, and slammed the door closed. Then she stuck out her tongue and ran home.

I was flabbergasted and embarrassed.

What was I doing on the front porch in my pajamas with the neighbor kid? I don’t know. I was supposed to be getting dressed, because Dad, (divorced, moved out, remarried) was coming to pick me up.

Even though I pounded on the side door, the front door, and the back door, my sibs refused to wake up. Defeated, I cowered on the porch, head between my knees. waiting for Dad.

Tires crunched the gravel driveway. Heavy footfalls on the front walk. The screen door squeaked open. “Why aren’t you ready?”

“Sorry,” I told Dad’s shoes. “The door got locked.”

“Why didn’t you wake somebody up?”


Dad then pounded on the side door and shouted until I thought the house would break.

Michael let us in.

At a family reunion when I was maybe sixty-six, I launched into my sad tale again.

Michael, maybe seventy, said, “That house didn’t have a screened in front porch. No porch at all.”

Granted, Michael could tell you the relative humidity on your twelfth birthday and how high the river was that month.

But still. No porch? Impossible.

Locked out on the screened-in porch was one of my prized childhood traumas.

My other siblings agreed with Michael. Of course, they wouldn’t know we had a screened-in front porch. They were asleep while I was trapped there.

Always happy to prove somebody wrong, the family piled into Aunt Ruth’s car. We pulled up in front of the East 15th Street house.

No front porch.

Obviously, it was the wrong house. Or the new owners had demolished the porch. Or the porch had been blown off in a freak Iowa hurricane.

Sibs were amused, but I felt betrayed. Disoriented. The more I tried to bring back a corrected version of getting locked out, the more disoriented I became. Like walking on the beach when the tide sucks the sand from beneath your feet.

The porch-less house loomed accusingly, but I could feel the wooden floor under my feet, hear the click of the lock, feel the sting of post-traumatic porch embarrassment.

I had to accept my new reality. Whenever confusion or denial threatened, I turned away from them. Attempts to figure it out made me anxious. I eased into not-knowing.

I do my best not-knowing in the shower, scent of lavender in the steam. Similar to the lilac bush in our grandmother’s front yard. During the time we lived on East 15th, we older sibs spent weekends at our grandmother’s.

We always agreed on the details. The attic just off the upstairs bedroom, stuffed with toys. The baby grand in the living room. The green glider on the screened-in front porch, where I’d sit for hours listening to —

Screened-in front porch?


One thing not in doubt, our grandmother’s house provided sanctuary. She did her best to spoil us.

When I was ten, she walked me downtown — at least a mile — to buy me a pair of shoes. I didn’t like any we saw, so we walked back to the house. Where I changed my mind. My sainted grandmother immediately walked me back downtown and bought me the shoes.

On the other hand, or foot, when I was fifty, Yolanda and I took a shopping vacation together. We walked a good mile from our hotel, ending at a shoe store where I fell in love with gold lamé Italian leather sandals. I passed on buying them, too expensive.

We walked back to our hotel, where I changed my mind, and BFF immediately walked me back to the shoe store.

Was it my sainted grandmother or my sainted BFF? Was I ten or fifty? Remember?