When I came from my house through the garden to the car this morning, the bird that sings "Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty" was calling from the top of the mulberry tree. The temperature has taken a temporary turn toward spring-like this weekend, and the birds are looking for love. Last summer I figured out who belongs to that song, but I have forgotten. I always thank them for the "pretty" compliment, though; and when I heard it this morning my heart lifted.
A quarter of a century. Where did that go? My family was living in Starkville, Mississippi. Except for the Mississippi part, where we had been living for almost two years, I was happy. I had a wonderful family and was blissfully unaware that that particular brand of well-being was not going to be a forever fact of my life. Ed was at work across the parking lot from our temporary faculty housing, Nicholas was in his first grade classroom, not-quite-two-year-old Emma was down for a nap. It used to be that I watched all the space vehicle lift-offs. It thrilled me every time. But they had become so common place the TV stations no longer broke into programming to show them live. And I no longer looked for them; I could wait for the evening news to learn if they had lifted off as scheduled or if they had been delayed by weather or mechanical or technical difficulty. I turned on the TV that morning to entertain myself while Emma slept, and caught the first broadcasts of something gone terribly wrong. Houston Control was still thinking, hoping, praying that the astronauts would eject and hurtle into the ocean safe and sound. But of course that was just postponement of the inevitable. And I stood all alone in the middle of that room, tears of horror and disbelief streaming down my face.
Memory is a funny thing. Most of the time I experience memory in my head. But sometimes it is in a smell: the gardenias in my garden take me back to high school proms; the smell of a certain brand of cigar puts me back in Wenatchee, Washington visiting my Uncle Ike and Aunt Bertie, riding down the sidewalks in the "surry with the fringe on top"; he of the patch over one eye who smoked cigars with a similar scent. And then there are the "where were you?" events: the personal ones like the death of my father; and the memories we share with the world--the assassination of JFK, 9/11, the Challenger Disaster among them. Visuals of the event; where we were standing or sitting; who was there; what was going on around us before, during, and after; what we felt. It all bubbles up from somewhere down so deep we are barely aware we still hold the memory.
I received a bit of information on Friday afternoon that had the same sort of effect on me. Because I am not sure that it is public knowledge yet, I can't talk about it in specifics. But news of an impending happening brought up those memories of a blissful, not knowing the future, time. Something I thought would be forever, and wasn't. The news shocked me into speechlessness; I had no words even in my head or in my typing fingers. I sat frozen in my chair. The feelings didn't just bubble up, they surged volcanic ash-like from the deepest depths of my stillness. They had no name, only emotion. It was as if I were no longer connected to my body. Memory of a life in the rearview mirror, flashed within me. A piece of my life that I thought had ended 17 years ago, felt more final. Is that even possible? Is the end not the really real end? I guess, like the Challenger memory, all the people we have been stay inside of us. And when something happens to bring those old people and events up from the depths, we have to experience the endings over again. And perhaps each one is more final than the one before. Flirting at the edges of memories brought up by today's information was a vague image that this was not the sequence of events that had been playing out in my vision of the future, either. How dare things not happen as I imagine they will!
Speaking of friends and lovers that had their place in time, and are now gone from all but the depths, I found myself wondering about mine this week. As the Challenger came back to the surface, so did they. I remember all of those people, from my first-grade best friend Maggie Jo (I named a cat after her several years ago, and can still call up her blond curls bouncing on the bumpy school bus ride) and my first true love Mike in the second grade, through my first and second boyfriends and my friends through the years, to more recent-life lovers and friends. Memories of times spent together bubble up from time to time. My question is, do they remember me? Do they call up my face and relive time? I know that my first boyfriend does (he of the gardenia corsages), because he has told me. I am grateful for that. I guess there are just some things I will never know. They come up from my depths; I trust I come up from theirs.
5 years ago