If I could take only one memory with me when I move into an age of forgetting, it would be walks to the river, my son on my shoulders, the sun on my back, those moments. Or the times we went swimming when he was four. Or maybe the sound of house wrens just before dawn, or the whippoorwills just after dusk. I’d like to take that feeling of an open fire on my face and the cool night on my back. Or the sound of my father’s voice telling me to sleep well. Or my mother’s laugh, the way she takes a long breath. I’d like to forget all the times I got angry, all the times I was critical, all the times I didn’t listen, the myriad moments of arrogance, of immaturity, and replace them with the memories of all the times I listened to the sound of rain on the canvas awning at our home when I was a child.
I know I’ll want to remember one more time the foghorns on the Great South Bay drifting through the air, the sound of my friends’ voices as we hiked through the woods, headed toward wherever. I take it the grand design allows we forget the minutia as we age, but I’ll salvage what I can. I like remembering the way my son laughed uncontrollably when he was two and I chased him across a field. Or the jazz band that played at halftime during the basketball games at my college, or the sound of the train late at night coming in over the hills out toward Salamanca, the tracks just a block away.
Sometimes now when I am out for a walk, I stand at the water and wonder where everyone is. And I look up the coast and imagine my childhood friends—save one who left too soon—the rest now adults, sitting with their families, reading the paper, watching a movie, most likely long ago forgetting what we did when we were young. But I’m glad they’re there, just a few decades away, somehow still part of some shared history.
Or later. New England. Like the time I got home early from vacation and the kitten had shredded all the New Year’s Eve decorations I had put up, and a friend of mine stood in the kitchen crying with a bag of new decorations in her hand (the cat was nowhere to be found).
Or the time in the old house near that farm when we heard the cow so early that morning. The sound of the “moo,” a car start, drive off, and we laughed a long time picturing the cow rushing off to work somewhere. I remember that, and I remember the phone call a few months later. Of course. I have made it here now to who I am now because of both, and with both I am able to be honest about who I am. The extreme emotions of our lives are ironically very much the same, really.
I celebrate memory; I embrace melancholy. Too many medicines move us to the middle; doctors are terrified of the extremes. But the extremes are what we remember—good and bad. This is not to say I don’t spend the majority of my time planning and moving forward to what’s next. It is just that in the early morning, before the sun has had her say, before I am about to walk into the realm of a thousand voices and the movement of life, I like to remember that it’s been a good ride so far, despite the moments of pain, the now seemingly fleeting difficult moments. LIke that bolt that went into my son’s head, and the way he handled it like a trooper while the doctor’s tended to me, while I tried not to faint.
It’s been a ride, I must say. It’s been one hell of a ride so far. And fast. So damn fast.
The length of a lifetime from the beginning looks nothing at all like the brevity of that life from the end, like standing on a diving board terrified to leap, knowing you have to anyway for all the others lined up behind you waiting to have their chance. It’s your turn so you jump despite the fear of how far it is to the water, but when you “rise again and laughingly dash with your hair,” you look up at where you started and think, that wasn’t so far at all.
No, it isn’t far at all. Which is why while planning ahead I also like to find a friend, pour a drink, sit quietly for a while, then say, “Hey, do you remember that time…”
and then, quickly, find a map, make plans, block off some time—fall maybe, perhaps winter—and find something to do together later so we can remember when again. And again.