Saturday, September 20, 2008

Everything Old is New Again

A few days ago, in need of distraction, I was browsing my bookshelves, in search of something I’d not yet read. In between the Hemingway and Faulkner, old friends that I’ve traveled with many times, I spotted a copy of T.R. Pearson’s A Short History of a Small Place. Catchy title, I thought, and I like Pearson. That’ll do.

I settled on the couch and dove in. Somewhere around page 75, I found a receipt from Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. It seems I bought this book on the same day I purchased Britt’s copy of The Odyssey for her sophomore Lit class. Small pause there, as that day came flooding back: classes for me in the morning, then off to work at the University Club. Britt walked from school to the club and spent a little time doing homework while I balanced out restaurant receipts from the night before. We skipped out a little early and wandered over the square; purchases were made at the bookstore, ice cream was consumed; we ran into my biology professor on the sidewalk and he was charming to my girl.

The clarity of that memory is startling to me, mostly because – to be frank – my memory is now most often like a fine Swiss cheese; there are holes big enough to drive a tank through and much of what gets poured in leaves just as quickly. That wasn’t always the case. Until Britt died, one of the things I liked best about myself was my ability to remember everything. Big things and little things and all the in-between things. I never forgot a birthday or a name. I could recite conversations verbatim, months after I’d had them. I knew all my projects at work as well as I knew my own phone number, both current and for every address where I’d lived since I was 16. This made me an excellent employee, a sometimes exasperating wife, and a formidable Mom. Now, I’m working on becoming a list maker and a note writer, and trying to come to terms with yet another side-effect of grief: trauma not only slams your metabolism into park, clouds your judgment, and steals your words, it short circuits your memory. Please don’t ask me to tell you where things are or what we did or when we did it. It’s a safe bet that I don’t have a clue and will only begin to recall after you’ve laid it all out for me.

Which brings us back to the Pearson. The book I’d never read, remember? Except, by page 264 things were feeling awfully familiar in those pages. And by page 370 I had remembered the ending. Of course, it ended on page 381, so that’s not saying much. Maybe this will get better and maybe it won’t: the literature is mixed and my doctor won’t commit. I suppose only time will tell. In the meantime, I own at least a hundred books I don’t remember the plots of, a shelf full of movies I can watch again for the ‘first time’, and stash of neon hued Post-It’s to help me muddle through.

1 comment:

Jesse Wiedinmyer said...

That book for me was Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface, by Martha Manning. It didn't quite work that way for me. I knew that I'd started the book and hadn't finished it. So I figured I'd give it another try... Made it to the end before I got to the part that I didn't remember (finishing it the first time, that is).

I dunno. At this point in my life, my memory is pretty much shot to hell. I remember that I used to be able to meet a couple hundred people over the course of a day and remember all of their names. Now I need to be introduced to people three times before I maybe remember them. I don't think the drinking helps all that much.

There are still a couple of things that can take me back pretty much immediately. The smell of New West cologne puts me right outside my Uncle's house on Christmas Eve when I was probably about thirteen, my brother standing in a blue sweater with a red diamond check (that I eventually wore until it fall apart) with a bottle of red wine in each hand doing one of the worst Italian accents I've ever heard. "Vino? You want vino?"

As it is, I think back on all of the people I used to know, all of the people that I barely knew and wonder what the hell ever happened... Then again, once I stopped being the one to make the effort to keep in touch, it seemed pretty much like no effort was made.

Memory, sweetheart? Ain't nobody goes there anymore. It's always too crowded.