fallaway bridge

November 18, 2010 § 2 Comments

I don’t remember as much of my own childhood as any reasonably adjusted twenty-six year old should. At least that’s how it feels, trying to gather up the threads. I was never abused or ushered through the kind of trauma that might precipitate a blacking-out of chronology, a redaction of details. Ray Bradbury claims to possess total recall of his own birth, an acute awareness of past events I probably don’t envy. But I do sometimes wish I could remember more than I do. For posterity? For ideas? Some sense of trajectory?

I liken it to dashing across a rope bridge and some–but not all–of the wooden slats dropping off behind me, plunking down into the stagnant waters far below, then rising to the surface, more cover for the crocodiles. 

The events aren’t entirely lost to me. But not so accessible as to be readily apparent. Not locked away, but stashed behind doors that sit flush with the musty walls, available but camouflaged.

I remember the day when my dad left me in the video store in a nearby strip mall. Both too old and too young to comprehend my very brief abandonment. I browse the family films in the shop’s front corner, my back to the vast window and my mother, waiting in the car outside. But this isn’t my memory. It’s my dad’s. The shock and embarrassment registered before he even reaches the car. The look on my mother’s face. His jog back to the curb, the sight of me alone before a wall of VHS tapes. The white clamshell cases of the old Disney live-actions. Stories about cats from outer space and human minds trapped in shaggy dogs. Perfectly content. It’s not my memory, because it wasn’t at all extraordinary from my perspective. But my parents have laughed about it enough that I’ve furnished a little crevice in my mind with enough of my own experience to make it vivid. I could tell you I was wearing corduroy and the navy letterman jacket embroidered with the logo of my family’s business, hem down to my ankles. But I’d be lying. But I’d be sure of it.

They say forgetting is just as important as remembering. That if we retained all of our past experiences, all the stimulus and emotion and awareness, we’d surely drown. There are people out there who don’t shed their sensations so easily. They’re called mad because they’re so invested in sorting through the noise they can’t bother with such things as coherence and social graces. Remembering it all can’t be the answer. It isn’t. Despite the sadness inherent in losing what once was now.

Perhaps it’s only fair we can’t find a clear track when we attempt to rewind. Assuming your experience is the same as mine. Perhaps it’s only good that even the most wonderful minutes go glossed over. So we can find them again. Sink them in vinegar and admire new luster. Not to see them again as they were. To see them new, a thousand times over.


§ 2 Responses to fallaway bridge

  • Wow, Paul. Really fantastic piece. Some gorgeous prose here. Deceptively simple. It’s so odd to read this because I’ve been noticing something similar lately. I’m only 19 and you’d think I’d have a fantastic recall of my early childhood, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Almost every time I’m at t a family gathering, someone will tell a story that I was present for (sometimes even one I played a main role in) and I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s a little frightening. It makes me nervous that as I keep marching through time that I’ll start to forget the moments that are really important to me right now. The feeling has even inspired me to keep a small collection of items that remind me of important times or influential people on my desk.

    A little strange for two so young to be worried so much about memory. But, of course, you put it far more eloquently than I ever could. Bravo sir.

  • itsbecca says:

    There was a This American Life about this topic. Like your video store a man had injected himself into an oft told story of his wife’s and I loved the story because I do it so often. I have a lot of “memories” based off photographs. Often times if I’ve embellished a story in its telling I will soon enough began to just remember it that way in the first place. I’ve just learned to tell the truth when it’s important, but embellish away when it’s not. Makes my past much more colorful.

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