I was 28 years old and starting college. I had never really been a student before. I started working as an actor just before I turned four, so school always came second. Sure, I went to school sometimes, but it felt like something I did just to fill the time until my next job, like cross-stitch or tennis lessons.
But as I neared my thirties, I figured it was time to try that thing that other people did – get educated. I bought a backpack and a lot of pens.
The school thing went okay. Socially, it was challenging. I tried to just fade into the background but people would yell “Hey, Doubtfire girl!” from down the hall, and then they’d get nervous and run away when I turned around. I didn’t really have friends, but that was okay — I had all those pens.
I took an Introduction to Psychology class. The professor came into the room on the first day, shuffling a stack of impressive looking papers while extolling the importance of early childhood experiences on the adult psyche.
She asked us all to recall our earliest memory and share it with the random stranger next to us. I couldn’t have been more offended by the intimacy of this assignment if I had been asked to whip out a nipple for my seat-mate.
The truth is, there is footage of my earliest memory.
I am on the set of a Cottonelle toilet paper commercial. A man is standing on a ladder, pouring a cardboard box full of cotton balls on my head. The commercial will be in slow motion: me with my unusually large eyes, joyously attempting to catch the fluffy cotton balls that rain down on me. I’m thinking it’s strange that this grown man’s job is to dump cotton balls on my head. My job also feels ridiculous – catching aforementioned cotton balls – but I am barely four years old. I reason that it’s okay to have a silly job since I’m just a preschooler.
But that was just not a memory to share with a complete stranger on the first day. It would have led to more questions and the kind of attention that I was trying to avoid. I was already desperately attempting to blend in with kids who were 10 years younger than me, kids who didn’t have a husband and a mortgage and a 10pm bedtime.
So, I lied about my first memory.
“My first memory is of my grandfather,” I said to the teenager next to me, who was twirling her hair and trying to look interested.
“He was pacing the upstairs hallway of his house. He had a heart condition and was pretty much restricted to his bedroom and that one hallway. I was walking behind him, my hands clasped together behind my back, mimicking his gate and posture. He always sang these Scottish bar songs and he would close his eyes when he got to the high notes.”
This indeed is an early memory of mine – it’s just not the first. This particular memory appears to indicate that I am a born follower and some sort of copycat. And a liar.
What does it mean that my real first memory was on set?
I’m not sure.
Maybe it means that my identity as an actor is so deeply rooted that I can never completely rid myself of it.
Maybe it means that I always questioned the viability of acting as a long-term career for myself.
Or maybe it just means that trying to catch cotton balls is pretty fun.
Here’s the whole commercial – if you are feeling nostalgic for Canadian toilet paper commercials from the 80s.