I woke up this morning with a bad case of amnesia. The person next to me sighed, heavily, then explained to me that this seems to happen every now and again. He told me about every four months we go through the same old routine- me, waking up, poking him, asking him what happened the night before and if we really know each other. Then, he told me, I seem to realize that I haven't only fuzzed out the night before a little bit, but I've also somehow wiped out selective memories- selective amnesia, they call it. I don't know if that's real. I probably wonder that every time this happens. Something to think about. Anyway, he said I tend to forget certain events and people. He says it's the worst when it's like this, when I don't remember him at all. He says it all comes back to me sometimes, and that sometimes we have to figure it out all over again. When he told me that I felt like I should want to cry at his sincere face, but somehow I couldn't. I don't know him. As of right now I'm not sure if I know anything.
What do I remember? A home video, or is it a memory? It seems like it must be a memory- I can still smell my grandmother's house- cleaning supplies and homemade bread- and feel the texture of her threadbare couch as if it were still against my skin. My sisters are all around me, and my mom is pointing ahead at my relatives- or is it a video camera? My oldest sister is singing some insipid song about fishies getting lost or munched on or something, and she's so dang good at it that I'm finding it very hard to jump into the chorus. And I'm sure I know the chorus, but she keeps changing it and singing louder and louder. Dig da waddum chew. Swim said the mama fishy, swim if you can, so they swam and they swam all over the dam…
Right now he has me seated in front of a jar of peanut butter. He says this is my favorite thing to eat when I'm feeling stressed. "Really?" says I, taking a spoonful. He watches me eat it, the paste sticking my mouth together. "No, not at all, actually," he says. "You always fall for that though." I indignantly put the lid back on the jar. "I don't appreciate that." Suddenly I feel a sense of déjà vu. Thank God. This does feel familiar. While he puts the jar away and yammers on about watching me eat being one of his few pleasures in life, I close my eyes and try to make his tones seep in, but they don't seem to. This is too bad. He is considerably good-looking.
After my sister finished dig-dad-waddum chewing her fourth verse, I overpowered her with my tiny lungs. I jumped up from the couch and got as close to the video camera as I could, smiling like a ridiculous clown. I threw in my two cents, and, rather than sticking with the little fishies swimming all over the dam I caused them all sorts of other adventures. They swam and they swam and they REALLY swam ALL over the place and I swam and they swam and I JUMPED and they did, too… then someone turned off the camera. But I remember it as though it just happened. I remember the feeling of exhausting my lungs with nonsense lyrics. I remember the desire to prove myself. I remember that.
I remember sitting under the stars- was it once, or was it three times?- with my college friends. Those were turbulent, occasionally sad times, but as we all huddled under piles of blankets it seemed impossible that any of us could ever be sad. One star after another dropped from their home, and I recall thinking that what I was witnessing was unusual and almost completely incorrect- how could stars- pieces of God's appointed sky- fall? How could something that's meant to exist for all time actually drop from its presumably eternal place? Because it's meant to, stupid, I told myself. And then I threw up in the bushes. Or was that just a story I heard?
I remember being furious. Why is that such a strong emotion, my fury? Why are someone's words in recollection sometimes still hurtful, still tear jerking? I remember being angry. I remember tense drives to and from my house as a teenager; I remember nearly backing over my argumentative friend in a parking lot. I remember being forced to feel small, and my incense at that feeling.
All of these recollections are faded, however, and some of them may not even exist. In fact, all that seems to be with me now are emotions and faint feelings. Warmth, challenge, fury. My memories must exist in these emotional containers, and I want to open them like Tupperware; like Charlie's candy wrapper standing in the way of his golden ticket, but I can't seem to.
After the rank taste of Super Chunky Peanut has subsided I leave the kitchen and wander into what I know is the living room where the bookcases are. I'm not sure why I know how our home is set up and not know whom it is that I love. I'm not two steps away from the fireplace when an atrocity on four legs crosses my path, eyes aflame. A cat, black, naturally, stands in between me and a fat copy of the Complete Works of John Donne that I suddenly realized I was after. Pussycat looks up at me and meows, pathetically. I scowl at her. Picklepuss scowls back. "What is this?" I ask him. "Oh," he's followed me from the kitchen. "It's your cat." Pansypuff prances about the living space, leaving paw prints 'ere she goes. I'm horrified. As I regard kittysnoot all of the confidence of memory restoration becomes as deflated as a dead balloon. Clearly I don't know myself at all. "WHY IN GOD'S NAME WOULD I HAVE A CAT?" His expression doesn't change. "Actually, you don't. It's the neighbor's. I just wanted to see if you really truly hated cats or if you just said you did to make me feel better. I'm allergic, you know." I feel like snarling. Snuffkins has started gnawing on a sock. So that's what happens to all those mateless socks. Fluffbutt destroys them. "That's stupid." It's the only thing I can think of to say. I stalk from the living room.
I remember my uncertainty. There were dusty trails involved and foreign words, and far, far too many suitcases and papers exchanged. I remember my desire for stabilization and comfort being met only by a camera flash and a shitty portrait on a passport. Do I really look like that? How I hope not. Do I really belong here? How I hope so. Can I speak out loud? I don't know. Or maybe that was just a flimsy picture in a magazine that I glanced through once. Maybe Angelina Jolie was on the cover. Lord I hope not.
He's followed me to whatever room it is that I've flitted into. He's apologizing for the cat thing, but I'm still kind of pissed about that. "It's not going to help me remember anything if you just confuse me," I mutter. All of a sudden, he envelopes me in his warmth, and abruptly, though I still can't place his name or his face or when exactly it was that this guy put a ring on my finger, his impression is all too familiar. "We've been together for awhile now," he's saying. "A few years." He tells me where we met. He has a hard time telling me about that, I can see. He says it's because he feels as though there shouldn't be a beginning with people who really care about each other; that love is like God, forever in the present, forever NOW, minus the awkward hellos and the times wasted over insignificant details that might keep loved ones apart. He says he can't imagine what being a divorced couple is like, or how someone can let a true friend fall by the wayside. Love is never in the past, he says. He looks at me and I peer up at him. I feel like a little kid as he talks down to me. "This is crazy," he says, "But in a way I'm grateful for this." "How's that?" I ask, grumpily, from my low position. "To love someone is to know them," says he, "And even if everything didn't come back to you, which it usually does, would be happy for this." He pauses a moment to clarify. "Finding new ways to know you."
I sit at this table and I know what it means to me. I've been happy here and I still am, even though these inscriptions are distant and the punchlines are missing.
I am behind the wheel and I know how to steer it. I have gripped this wheel for dear life and I have guided it through torrents, like a captain steers a ship. A song finds me and while I don't know what it is, I know the words, every single harmony and inflection like every turn and bend in this road and I always will.
I hold this pencil and I can tell we've had some times together, this lead and I. I've turned it on its side and it has spilled out creations I didn't know I had inside; etchings on a page exploding like the stars we watched fall from the sky.
I hold his hand and I know he's not lying to me. Love is more than a memory, a series of stories that don't make any difference when you're old. Love is always alive, love is God, and love is ever present. It is not something anyone can forget.
At last, I remember my happiness. Driving over curved hills- or was I sailing?- with dear ones. We sang every song we knew as if we had all the time in the world, and when we reached the end of our course we turned around and sailed it all over again, despite whatever wind, despite whatever resistance. My happiness was always clear weather, it was safe; it is and was an unburdened sail that could take us through the cosmos.
As my memories come sweeping over me now, my heart becomes like a violin, its strings strung far too taut, ready to break or ready to sing; it must be one or the other.
As I did at age three, at the top of my lungs, over my sisters, over everyone who knew better than I,