I deal in memories
As someone who writes non-fiction, who grew up in a family of storytellers, I reflect a great deal on the past as a way to make sense of who I am, where I'm from, and how I take my stories forward. I deal in memories, swim, and dwell in them. Because my Grandmother is losing her memories, I am even more aware of how what we remember shapes us.
As the older sibling, my memories of our childhood are strikingly different from my brother's. When I recently found an audio tape I'd made when I was 10 or 11 playing the piano and pretending to be a newscaster, my brother said he remembered me making those tapes. I clearly did so; I have the tapes to prove it but I have no recollection of where I was or of making the recording. He said I used to read the newspaper and highlight stories I would later record as part of my newscasts. I don't dispute this; I just do not remember it.
Lindsey's post got me thinking about how certain moments don't let go of us; we go over again them like a photograph or film in our mind, slowing, rewinding, focusing in on what we are wearing, the smells we recall and the stories that emerge from snapshots strung together. Other times they sneak up on us, flashing through our minds suddenly. Music has figured so strongly in my life that I get lost easily, remembering through songs. Some moments are small but significant while others feel big while they are happening.
Some moments, however, are more like a piece of a dream I remember without much context. They float, untethered in my mind.
My brother's homemade Halloween costume, a lion, the year we went trick or treating by ourselves. I have an image of him, standing in my mother's closet, all suited up roaring and grinning. I don't, however, remember what my costume was.
An airport corridor where I walked away from someone I loved. Each step I took, I knew was a step away from a life I could have had and toward something else entirely. I remember the weight of my backpack, the feeling of each step, the smell of the freshly replaced carpet and the bright lights that felt hot on my face as I walked to the plane. It wasn't until I reached the door and noticed the flight attendent's face that I realized I was crying.
A perfect summer day, driving across Mobile Bay, windows down, blasting Foo Fighters and singing about heroes and changing our minds about our destination, ending up wearing our beach attire into a five star hotel where we caught a few ugly glances, and drank lots of champagne.
Playing in the woods with my friend, Annie, telling ghost stories on our way to the old cemetery. We figured some of those graves never had visitors, so we picked flowers along the road and laid them on untouched, bare graves. We made up stories about the pople buried there, about their lives and death. There is a moment I return to, standing at one of the graves after placing wildflowers there. The name is hard to read; I think it says Ellison. It is one of the oldest graves in the cemetery and I am careful where I stand. As obsessed as I was with ghosts, I was mindful that I was in a place of spirits. I was never scared there, not the way I was in the newer cemetery with its gleaming marble. Somehow the crumbling stone was comforting. I remember thinking, "nothing lasts, not even gravestones."
Diving into the pool during swim lessons to save a frog who was already dead, and the sense of sadness I felt when I realized it.
Sitting in my mom's car, feeling my teeth free of braces, all slick and new, happy that I could popcorn and toffee and caramel again but a little disappointed that I would no longer have the time I spent alone with my mother on the drives to the office in Selma, where she let me choose the radio station and didn't disparage the music that played. I think she even liked some of it, particularly Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
The moments in kitchens where I spent so much of my life have become a kind of cornerstone of the stories of who I am, but these flashes of memories have made me, too. This fantastic line from a Band of Horses song runs through me often and I think it is true of memories and of what we remember: "We are the ever living ghosts of what we once were."