Thursday, February 14, 2013


I'm afraid to reach into my memory. Neurologists say that every time we call up a memory, we overwrite it. Our most frequently revisited memories are the least reliable: the most thoroughly revised, supplemented and amended by what people tell us did happen, would have happened, must have happened. And by our own speculations and reasoned extrapolations. It's efficient, but it's a system for storing useful information, not for recording events. The more we revisit the past, the less we will find it there.

When I first tried to rescue a wasp from a swimming pool, I found that by reaching for it, I pushed it away, farther out into the water. It couldn't be done one-handed. Retrieving a memory, I think, will be like that. I'll have to reach both hands, and slowly bring them together. Then throw the whole handful of water up over the cement lip of the pool. With luck the dazed wasp will be there, gleaming gold and black, its abdomen jacking in confusion. With luck it will crawl out of danger, dragging its stuck-together wings.

We were proud, touch-me-not. I only remember us having people over once. They were a stiff Quaker family. Their father and my father had a grave conversation. We kids played quietly. It was a strange thing, having people over. We played matchbox cars. The undercarriages of mine were painted yellow, and those of my older brother were painted red: that way there could be no doubt or contention about whose car was whose. Red was obviously the better color, but he was the older brother, after all. The Quaker kids – what cars did they get? We didn't have colors for them. And they didn't seem to care for the cars anyway.

“He was as white as a sheet,” the next-door neighbor said, confidently. Was I? All I remember is the stillness, the house empty when it shouldn't have been. I was supposed to stay with the neighbor, but I didn't like it there, and I slipped away and went home instead. I had never come home to an empty house before. Trepidation, but also a shiver of freedom. I was unobserved. My life was my own. For the first time. I wandered out under the row of birch trees my father had planted, and looked at the dangling catkins against the blue sky. “I can choose,” I said. “I can choose to remember this moment of this day, forever.” I was seven years old. I was right I still remember. Seven. Catkins against the sky.

That is to say, I remember something. That's the handful of water I fling onto the patio beside the pool. That's the year my parents were divorced, the year the house went quiet, blessedly or achingly quiet.

I only remember the brokenness, not the breaking.


Zhoen said...

But, are memories that are never refreshed merely forgotten?

Dale said...

Yes, I reckon so.

marly youmans said...

"The more we revisit the past, the less we will find it there." I'm always startled by my children's recollections of childhood--they are frequently quite imaginative!

I have a strange memory. I keeps tight hold of all the wrong things, I sometimes believe, and lets go of precious ones. One could easily have a sense of life unreeling and, without a sharp memory, feel that one hardly exists.

Maybe that's what the words and writing it down are for.