Monday, October 8, 2012

Memory is a tangled web

I was sharing just this morning with one of our residents at Friendly Towers about memoir. She read my contribution to a themed anthology on memoir ROLL, my essay “Sense of Smell.” This was a flash memoir that arose organically out of lilacs growing at a corner by the hospital on the way to the park—and then spiraled into 2 or 3 other memories. The resident commented that the piece she read seemed to have spiritual implications.

How to respond?

Not to get too abstract, I said that most memories stem perhaps from a physical jog (in the case of my essay I was literally jogging) ie a tangible reminder sparks the memory. But that most memories are seated in the heart. Consider the word “reminisce.” Yes, it means looking back, but it also implies nostalgia or longing. More than simple recall, certain aspects of remembering involve the emotional child, the hurt little girl, the angst-ridden teenager.

I can remember exactly where I was when I was packed and ready to go to camp and my mother told me she’d changed her mind about letting me go. There was so much terror in my life—I never knew what my mother was going to say or do. Many of her actions stemmed from illogic. I still can’t say what motivated her—except perhaps power. In the instance above I immediately freaked out—but then thought—wait! I called a friend and they came and got me and we made it to the bus on time. Mom had already signed the permission slip and I knew she didn’t really want me around for the weekend.

Sometimes when confronted with powerlessness I remember this incident. It visits me randomly, the hot flash that overwhelms me, the sense that there is nothing I can do, in the face of stubborn indifference, I remember: Mom in the laundry room hallway—and realize she was just as afraid of losing what was important to her as I was afraid of being left behind. Perhaps we were both afraid of the same thing.

Memory is a tangled web we weave, full of fire and fury—rarely cathartic, only punching more holes in our psyche. 

Mom holding Steve, early 50s

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