Featured

On Memory

This is the post excerpt.

Memory: the key component for any successful person.

It is memory that gives us traditions, a past, identity. It sets us apart from others. We remember our childhood and holiday traditions we practiced every year without fail. We remember our ancestors who travelled from foreign countries years ago and we somehow define who we are today by their sacrifices, challenges and accomplishments, however real or imagined. We remember the big moments in our lives that shaped us; our first love, our first loss, our first job, our first real responsibilities and occasionally reflect on them to see how far we have come (or not) since then.

You need memory to take you to new places, to motivate you, in your heart, in your mind, across the world or across town.

You can argue that memory is what keeps us alive. Literally, of course, as you must remember to eat, sleep, and drink, not step out in front of traffic and so on. But memory also keeps us alive as a whole collective, as well, in spirit, with life. You must remember laws, routines, and schedules. You must remember work repetition in order to grow and add to success. You need memory to voice language and communicate. It is memory that keeps us on time, knowing where to go, who we are to meet and what we are to do next. Without it, we would be lost.

The present is a future memory, its story is written moment by moment, to be recalled later as fact, fallacy, with truth or distortion. And there is always the past. If you don’t remember the past you are doomed to repeat it, as they say. But at least then it would be a new memory, for some, right?

And the memories we don’t have are equally as powerful as the ones we do and they can drive us to grow, to change, to not repeat an injustice, perceived or not, done to us, in childhood, perhaps. “My father never took me fishing”, he says, “and I missed that. I will take my son so he can have that memory.”…as if certain memories must be had in order to have been raised successfully. Interesting idea although one can never experience all memories thus repeating the cycle of perceived childhood injustices.

We carry all that we have with us as memories, to some extent.  Our homes have photos of those we love on the walls to remind us of that love. We have tucked away somewhere old love letters or school yearbooks, a record or an old shirt to remind us of our first loves that we have not seen in years but could not possibly have forgotten or of that concert we went to with our best friend and had the time of our life when we were young, careless and impressionable. We drive past our childhood homes with fondness. We attend high school reunions to be reminded of who we were and to see who we are now and how “far” we have come, how far others have come, changed. We carry our scars, physically or mentally, which remind us too where we have been with pride or with anguish. We wear wedding rings to remind us of our commitments and tattoos to remind us of our achievements, our losses, our favorite things or simply for the love of color and art.

But who are we if we lose our memory? Who are we if we continue to live but don’t know who we are? How do we show the world and the people in it how important our life was if we can’t recall our name?

I have often wondered if our memories are a blessing or a curse and I currently stand divided. What a gift to remember all that you have done; places you have travelled, people you have loved, skills you have learned, children you have had, food you have eaten, music you have made or listened to, conversations you have had, family and friends you have loved, lovers you have experienced, situations you have survived, homes and towns you lived in, photos you have cherished, events you witnessed or participated in, lives you have changed, people who have changed yours.

But for all the love and nostalgia and fondness of memories comes the ache, the pain, of remembering the loss of something great, something experienced, someone experienced.

Loss is a bitter, tragic thing. True loss, soul changing loss, is nearly unbearable and after surviving it, you come away changed, and it is inevitable that you will, sooner or later, mourn who you were, what you had and remember now what can never be again.

It ages you. It weakens you.  It makes you tired, to your core, before you have even begun. The ache you feel in your chest, words cannot define with any measurable justice. It is a feeling, a pain, an emptiness, a darkness, a weight. I heard this sadness once from a mother who lost her teenage daughter in a senseless car accident. Her wail was bone chilling, at a decibel not normally felt or heard by humans…it was the sound of a heart dying and I will never ever, could never ever, forget it.

My heart has made that sound twice and while the stories are my own for now, I am forever changed. Is the new me a better me for having experienced that or am I a sadder me who must also remember and mourn who I was and what part of me is lost to time forever?

My son is 9 weeks old and was born to me in what I will say was the hardest year of my life. I am, at the moment, a blank canvas where, through a lifetime of experiences, he will paint a picture of who I am. Will his memory of me resemble what I actually look like? Will he pick up and paint highlights of who I was before, as if that light and color is never truly lost or hidden? Or will he paint a duller version of who I am, the only me he has known? Or, perhaps, by the time I see his painting of me I will have forgotten who I was, through time and aging, and through his eyes I will rediscover myself, my history, my legacy. If I have forgotten my life, my past, and lost my memory, in the end will it change who I am or who I was all those years ago?

lost-time

Shadow Half

Us and we is now I and me.

We were two and now I am one, half of me in light, the other half in shadow.

My light is shrinking and the darkness of your absence is growing. A tear in the fabric of my time, life is an absent seamstress.

I am alone surrounded by people, deafening screams internal, making all other sounds of love, faint in the distance.

I am chasing a ghost only I will truly know, my few attempts to explain the loss confined to language that has no word that truly defines it, to explain it, so I won’t try.

Backlit from the sun I see you, not me and without fail it reminds me that here I am alone but like a negative image, you walk with me.

Alone I am whole and without you I am whole but it is only with you that I am complete.

Endless Sleep – An Extended Haiku

Endless sleep will bring * a calmness never again * in lifes waking state.

Eyes closed. Focusing * on a time I lived free, when * I loved completely.

Smelling your scent I * rest deep in the nape of your * neck, finally home.

I can not rest here * long, only moments pass, an * eternity spent.

To be locked away, * revisited only when * I need you near me…

…which is always, and * never. Pain so great it must * be buried within.

To love again I * hope. But if its a fraction * to be lost, death first.

Endless Sleep 1

The Big Exit

When the sun shined for the first time I could remember how strange it felt, how warm, magical even. I was so small then. Unaware of my surroundings or who or what I really was, I knew only to pause and wait, for what, I wasn’t really sure but I was there, with the sun on my skin and the air blowing past me with peace.

I remember those days so long ago and it seems like a dream although I am nearly certain it wasn’t. At least I think it wasn’t. Some times I am not sure anymore. So much has changed.

You know that feeling when you haven’t felt the sun on your skin for months and the first time it shines and touches you, all you can do is stop, close your eyes and turn your face towards its warmth and bathe in its light?…I felt like that all day, every day and it was a beautiful state.

Of course, eventually you have to open your eyes and when that time came for me I realized that I wasn’t alone any longer. I was surrounded by others, all just like me. We all didn’t really know where we were but it felt good to see the others and with an unseen shoulder shrug we accepted this company and it just became part of who we were. I was no longer just one, I was an US.

Throughout my life I had always been surrounded by others and it was always a comfort. I could remember no different therefore I wasn’t thinking about preserving anything, preserving time more specifically. I lived, we lived, days dancing in the warm sun, nights laying peacefully outside, basked in the glow of the moonlight. I grew bigger and stronger, we grew bigger and stronger. We were living although we didn’t know to call it that.

I noticed though that some days were not always sunny and the cloudy days made all things feel a bit less lively, a bit more depressed but that was OK though. Those days were few and far between and to focus on those days would be a waste of the sunny days we had and the ones to come.

One day though, I noticed a change. I could not place the feeling because I never had it before. From one day to the next, it was as if the wind changed somehow and set into motion the ticking of an invisible clock. Well, it was invisible to me at the time. I had no word for the feeling, I just felt it. It would come and go with the days but as time went by, more often than not, my thoughts turned to this feeling and I wondered more about it.

I can remember the day my closest neighbor left. At first it was a shock because he was always there before. I guess you could say we grew up together and all of my memories include him even before I really knew who he was. We were so similar and so naturally after he had gone, I felt lonesome but there were so many others around, eventually it was OK although I still thought about him often but more so now at the end.

I think it was after my friend left that I realized about the change in the air, maybe it was a change in me too. Although nearly everything was as it was the day before he left, his absence made a hole….a hole that eventually got bigger in both me and the world around me.

As time went on, more and more of my friends left and I began to think I was missing out on something. Like everyone was being picked first for a team sport and I was left alone, not knowing the feeling of inclusion. I told myself that their absence must be a good thing and if they left then I will leave soon too. So I waited. We all waited. We lived too and enjoyed the days but with a new purpose. The new purpose was, in a way, exciting,”An adventure that lay just around the corner!” I would tell myself. But as I aged and those corners approached, it seemed like all of the others were picked for the team and I was left behind, slowly feeling more alone, still waiting.

My hope slowly turned to disappointment, then to sadness and eventually to grief. In time the grief has faded. Well, to be honest, I cannot tell if it has faded or if I am just used to it, so I accept it either way. There are others around me but not nearly as many. All of my friends are gone and so I sit and I wait, in the sun and the breeze. The air is colder and the days are not so sunny anymore. My skin has changed too and it has lost its youthful glow. It is now so very thin, like paper, it is dry and cracked and some days I feel so weak that even the wind could just blow me away. But it doesn’t and so I sit patiently, nearly alone, with only memory and perspective as my two lasting companions and I wonder if more days in the sun were a beautiful gift bestowed on me or if they were a sad joke of some sort being played on me. My answer to this just depends on the day.

“Any day now.” I think, and while I am too old to be excited, I am ready for the journey with the hopes that it will bring me peace of some sort. I spend most days now thinking about those who are gone and I think about their big exits and know now why they call us leaves.

Leaves 3

Feathers


I picked up a feather last time I was here. There were two.
I told myself it would be a sign if the next time I came there was another feather there. Maybe that was the spot to honor her. The feather would be my sign.

On my walk, days later, today, I decided to come back to the cemetery although it was in the wrong direction of where I wanted to go. Pushing my stroller I walked towards your tree. I am calling it that because that’s where I want to put your stone.

Coming from the opposite direction as usual and walking in the direction of your tree I came upon 5 feathers in a pattern on the walkway. There were four feathers at the corners of an invisible square and one directly on the walkway.

It was a sign.

I took photos of the patterns and smiled as I parked under your tree and sat in the place I want to dedicate a bench to you and Betty. This is where I picked up one of the two feathers that lay here last time I was here. The second feather, the original sign, is gone now.

I sit and think about the five feathers in the walkway and want to contact Vida to ask about the pattern.
I’m concerned with if it’s too out of the blue to ask her and I debate this in my mind, going back and forth, for some time.

The old lady three stones in front of me cleans a headstone with a brush and water.
Two men I can’t see to my left are chatting away. Laughing a little. It sounds nice.

I see a young woman who looks a bit like you busily busting her ass gardening in her white tank top, shades and strong arms. She is our age, maybe younger. Out of place here by 30 years amongst the living but she seems oddly at home, working hard at her headstone garden, maintaining its beauty. She reminds me so much of you and I smile a bit at the memory of you always working in your garden.

I decide to go because I can hear my son sleeping restlessly in the stroller on this oddly warm Spring day. I get up and walk to the stroller and see a feather next to the spot I want to place your stone. It lays right between the stroller wheel marks I made in the dirt, not ten minutes before, right below your tree. It wasn’t there before. I know because I looked. I am without words. I take a picture.

I look in awe and start crying and for a second I feel you and look around and hope I see you…but I don’t. I feel you though. And it’s enough to keep my tears coming and enough to make me happy for a moment.

It was a sign. I know you. I know your love of feathers…

…so I took the feather with me.
IMG_3428

My Mother Had a Button Box

When I was a child my mother had a button box that she kept in what we liked to call her sewing room. At the time my sisters and I were all in Catholic school and we had to wear a uniform each day to school. Our daily uniform consisted of a white collared short sleeve shirt and a pleated blue and black skirt that hung below the knee. Both the shirt and the skirt not only needed to be bleached clean every day but they also needed to be ironed too which was a lot to ask of a mother of four girls, three of which were tom boys and could not keep a shirt clean longer that a few hours with me being the worst. I always came home with grass stains, dirt marks and small tears in my shirts along and without fail I always had missing buttons. No matter how hard I tried, somehow, someway my shirts were always a disaster and always needed to be repaired weekly in some way.

Late in the evenings from my room when the entire house was quiet, I could hear the faint sound of a television on and I knew that my mom was up late sewing and getting our uniforms ready for the morning. I used to get out of bed and quietly tip toe through my room so I didn’t wake up my sister and I would slowly walk down the dark hallway, past the room where my older sisters slept, towards the glowing light that outlined the sewing room door. The hallway was so black that the white light made the door look like it was floating in the dark and I would inch my way closer to the opening of the sliding door to peek inside and see if I could watch whatever it was that my mom was watching on TV while she worked with the hopes she would not notice that I was there. Eventually, I would make a noise that tipped her off that I was standing in the hallway and often times she would tell me that I couldn’t stay up with her and I couldn’t watch TV with her and she sent me back to my room. Sometimes she would get incredibly mad at me and her punishments always made me think twice before I left the darkness of my bedroom and its safety to tiptoe down the hall and try again to watch TV on some other occasion but I was a stubborn child and each night was a new night and no matter what, I would try again, and again, and again, risking punishment for a glimpse of the TV and the button box. I was just that type of kid.

But on the odd night when my mom was in a good mood and she knew I was standing there peeking through the door in the dark hallway, she would let me come in and watch TV with her. I always chose to sit under the sewing machine that was adjacent to the TV because I felt like I was in a special, hidden area that was only my special area where only I could fit. I could see the TV, be close to my mom and most importantly I had enough room to look through her button box.

I loved that button box. It was a long, rectangle box that was the length of two adult hands laid end to end and it was covered in brown and dark satin paisley print. There was the smallest of handles on the top of the lid that was only big enough to grasp with your pointer finger and thumb and the clasp was a claw hook, small but sturdy, perfect for little fingers. When the clasps grip was loosened you opened the box and the lining of the box was pink satin. Pink is an awful color when you are a tomboy but this pink was bright and delicate and since it lined one of my favorite things, it was beautiful.

I would dump the buttons out on the floor and arrange them a hundred different ways: by color, shape, size. There were brown ones, black ones, small ones and long ones. Some were shiny and others matte, the ones for our shirts were pearlescent and there were so many of them. My favorites were the few metal buttons that were unlike any buttons I had ever seen before and I always wondered where they came from and who wore them. I even had a favorite button. It was one of the long black, barrel buttons that went on my moms favorite jacket. I loved that jacket and I don’t know how many times I touched the ones on her coat. It was like how children play with their mom’s hair when they are tired except I never played with my moms hair, I wanted to hold these buttons.

And in those late evenings sitting crouched beneath the sewing machine watching reruns of I Love Lucy on a black and white TV, smelling my moms cigarette smoke and sitting close to her, eye level with her knees and seeing only her nightgown and thongs that she always wore on her feet as they bobbed up and down while she sat cross legged sewing on by hand all of our little buttons on our Catholic school shirts and I thought to myself how those were some of my favorite nights as a child, basked in the company of my mom, the safety of my fort and the magic of that button box.

Buttons

What You Left Behind

I learned more about you by the items you left behind to be thrown away in the trash than what I think you actually took with you.

Sitting amongst my life packed in boxes, of her life too, stacked to the ceiling of her sweltering garage, a task so daunting it is hardly believable. Where do you start to deconstruct the puzzle of your life, haphazardly stacked by strangers you never saw and one you thought you knew?

Peppered amongst my stacked or scattered years of laughter, of sadness, my old life, appear foreign items, strangers amongst items as familiar as my favorite childhood toy.

You took from her things items you felt entitled to, not even pausing to ask if these things you took I was OK with or if they were even mine. Over the years many of her things became mine but mostly my things hers as she promised to keep them safe, a comforting reminder of me in my absence from each other, while I adjusted to life abroad.

As I discover the bags and boxes you left behind I wonder if you left them for me to keep as a memento or if they were just the discarded details of your now former life you were leaving behind. After months of thinking, I know it is the latter.

I discover your old Christmas decorations, not all, just the junk ones I guess. Amongst them, one of the oldest collection of our childhood Christmas record. Year after year of pictures taken with Santa, from the mid-seventies to mid-nineties and at the center an old black and white picture of you in the 50’s, sitting on Santa’s lap, presumably at Macy’s in Union Square in San Francisco, a little girl no more than 7. Every year of my childhood, I looked at that picture collage in December, the little brown bears used as decorations, smiling back at me. Now, the collage sits in a pile of things to get rid of. You said goodbye to the girls in these pictures years ago. Now I see we are your trash, easily discarded, no longer needed as a reminder.

You left the card I wrote you as a thank you on my wedding day, my only parent left, I was so thankful you were there. Your framed Mother’s Day presents from one of your other daughters children, the kids smiling for their granny…garbage. A hand-print reindeer your grandson made you….trash.

Had I been more interested in you I would have wasted my time learning from your box of old paperwork about you IRAs, your savings account records, or thumbing through papers about your second divorce. Instead I shredded them. I should have let thieves steal your identity with the amount of sensitive items you left…but I didn’t. I wanted to but I am trying not to be a horrible bitch like you.

All of the things you left behind were of no value really to anyone except the box of pictures. I found value in those. Picking through what was there, I smiled. I actually smiled. I found old pictures from when we were kids I have never seen before. I saw pictures of us all as a family in Tahoe, when we were happy (I think) and you were wearing a sweater I only remembered once I saw it again. I loved that sweater you wore. From the pattern and colors to the buttons that clasped in the front. They were long and brown and looked a bit like stretched barrels that you hooked around a loop to close. Endlessly as a child my fingers traced their outline, mesmerized. 30 years and I had not thought about that sweater. I had to smile. I got caught up in all of the couple pictures of you and dad and your close friends at Halloween parties, at the club, on cruises, in Martinique. You were all smiling, tan, drunkenly laughing….you were happy…and so was he. I don’t remember that. I found pictures from some trip you took back east. You were surely old enough to have had both of my older sisters, maybe even us twins, but we are not in the pictures. Neither is dad. Why were you there? When? You even left behind a whole scrapbook that you made by hand from this trip, complete with ticket stubs, leaves, coins taped to the pages. Must have taken days for you to make. Must have been an important trip. I will never know because I will never ask you about it. I took the pictures I thought meant something and threw the rest in the trash as you had intended.

So many pictures of you in your youth, late teens, early twenties. You were exotic looking, you looked like no real stress had impacted your life yet. Your hair was dark, long, you were stylish….and alone in most pictures.  Who was taking them? Was it dad? I found your yearbooks, read the summer messages written by your friends, “Have a good summer!” and I read the retelling of numerous inside jokes. You always said you hated high school but it didn’t sound so bad. Who were you then? I know who you are now.

I realized in the pictures where you are in Martinique with dad, where you are smiling in your hotel room and posing on the beach, you will separated in only a few short months. He was devastated when you left him and loved you up to the day he died. I think now he died thinking maybe one day you would come back…maybe. But I can tell in the pictures he doesn’t see what’s coming. Why? Because you look happy. Blindsided. Finally I think my dad and I share a common feeling about you…neither of us really saw it coming or did not want to, anyway.

I never found the foot imprints I made for you when my son was 2 months old. Maybe you took them with you. Or just threw them out in the garbage you didn’t leave for me to dispose of. Or maybe you kept them so you can show me one day your heart was not all black, you were not completely selfish.  I don’t know. I don’t care really.

Sitting in a box here I have some of those photos I kept of dad, of you, of us and I will show my son one day. He may be curious about his grandma in America he was too young to remember. I won’t tell him what you did rather I will say that we are better not talking. Sometimes that can happen. How sad that all the events that have not yet happened that I just naturally assumed you would be a part of won’t include you. My son will have so few pictures with you in them. One of the many tragedies of my life which is a derivative of you. Another tragedy you probably fail to see in your own life. Selfish, sad you. Your crafted amnesia I will never forget.

Lazy-Boy

He sat reclined in his lazy-boy chair, in a dimly lit living room, alone, the light of the TV flickering, its sound playing incessantly, all day, all night, everyday in the background. Somewhere outside dogs bark in the distance, evening has come, the darkness has arrived and settles around the man and his chair, save for the flickering of the TV light and the dim glow of the lamp in the corner.

A knock on the screen door rouses the man back into conscientiousness, a slow rock of his weight to right the chair in its sitting position, he lumbers to the door to see the face of a young man, his son, although it takes him a minute to recognize him. The door opens and the young man enters the trailer and sits on the couch across from the lazy-boy chair. He has brought with him a plate of food, probably the only real meal the man will have in days, weeks perhaps, the man sustaining mostly on lite beer from a can and dinner from a plastic tray. He places it in the middle of the table in the living room.

The silence is thick between sentences and awkwardness is the third companion in the room. The young man talks briefly to the man in his chair about his day, the people he saw, how they looked, a short update on what they are doing and where they are living now. This is the mans only connection to a family he once knew. He listens but looks distracted, uncomfortable as to how to respond and several nods later it seems there is not much else to say. It is awkward again so the young man stands up and walks to the door, the man following slowly. There is no hug or handshake just a slight smile from the young man and after a quick goodbye, all that can be heard is the bang of the metal screen door closing and the gravel sound of footsteps leaving before the hum of the engine takes the young man away. The dogs have stopped barking and the air is quiet.

Pushing aside empty beer cans and a box of half-empty cigarettes that sit on the TV dinner tray beside the lazy-boy, the man picks up the plate of food, places it on the tray, sits in his chair placing the plate on his lap. He removes the tinfoil and is suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of the meal. Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and a small slice of pumpkin pie. For a brief moment something stirs within him. It’s a cross of nostalgia, love, memory, sadness and indifference. He picks up an old, used fork from the tray and reclines back in his chair. The moment has passed, he opens another beer and drinks most of it in one gulp. On TV is a hunting show, camouflage and swamplands and he settles in for the night.

It takes 3 days before anyone thinks to check on the man. Mid-day his trailer door opens and sun beams through the darkness, the TV plays in the background. The man is asleep in his chair, the plate of food on the tray beside him. Asphyxia due to choking and acute alcohol poisoning. The tragedy of addiction summed up in a single day.