Memories are not in the Past

I started this project to record something – an event that is very small – in different ways. I had watched a bird find a piece of plastic (which I didn’t know was there) in my garden, struggle to pull it loose, then fly away with it. And I thought over the best way to describe it, and just as quickly thought that there is no best way, just different ways, and so I decided to work some out. My first few efforts were like that, taking an idea and creating different sentences that did slightly different work.
Then the writing started to change and the event seemed more like a provocation, a stimulus, a prompt, that could/would take me in multiple directions, down different mind-tracks. And those mind-tracks were memories, meditations, mostly memories.

My uncle said (paraphrasing) – my memories are real. They are not in the past. When I am remembering something it’s happening right now. I am still also that child, that person.

I have thought about this idea often since. I have thought, too, about the stories we tell, how we choose to recount particular memories. Why those? Why do certain memories recur in our lives as stories such that we are cautioned, by our most frequent interlocutors, that we have told this one before. Why those memories? Is it because those recountable memories are not tiny events? Whereas unrecountable memories are so small as to be un-moored. There is no point to them. They can function as metaphor in poetry or to buttress or complicate some other thought or argument. But they don’t stand alone. For example:

1. I got on a crowded minibus. There were no spaces on the seats. Because minibuses are converted vans you can’t stand the way you would on a proper bus, holding on to rails or poles. I had to sit on the steps in the open door if I wanted to ride. As I sat down something sharp (a nail? I don’t remember what it was) caught the fabric of my pants at the left hip, exposing my skin through an L-shaped tear. I remember the feeling in my body as I turned to look at the tear and felt it with my hand, pulled back the flap, smoothed it closed again. I felt what? Shame? Embarrassment? I felt an uncomfortable awareness of the paleness of my skin, as if that tear had suddenly rendered me naked. I went through my plan in my mind, assessing the impact of this exposure on my day. I don’t remember now what I did at that point. Did I return home? I don’t think so. Did I go get needle and thread in town to repair it before continuing with my plan? I think that may be what I did but is it the thought of the possibility, and the imagining of myself into that shop (I know which shop; I can picture it) that maybe only just now became part of this meaning-less memory? Did I cover it with my hand, pulling it closed over and over while I did what I had planned to do? I don’t have those pants anymore. I can’t verify anything.

2. I was on a minibus, sitting on one of the bench seats across from the door. There was a man standing on the step, hanging out the door. Suddenly something burned on my chest like a sting, like one of the fire ants that make nests in fruit trees, and which have to be cut down in order to harvest the fruits. I looked down and saw ash had landed there, an ember from the cigarette of the man hanging out the door. I flicked it away and rubbed the burn.

3. I sat in my string chair next to the window and embroidered. That day I was looking out the window every once in awhile at the house next door, the side of which had stairs leading to a second floor apartment. So I saw the man walk up the stairs and stand on the landing and try the door and find it locked and then try the window and find it unlocked. He pushed it up and then pulled himself up, wiggled his way in head first, his body disappearing in slow motion. I paused and watched, my hands in my lap resting on my embroidery, the needle still pinched between my fingers, and I wondered if I should be calling the police. What was I seeing? Did he live there?

4. When I set my bags down (did I listen to the click of the bag’s feet on the concrete? I imagine I did but I don’t remember) at the station to greet him I looked down, looked at the sidewalk instead of keeping my head up and looking at him while setting the bags. There was something about the way I set the bags down, the way I looked down, that was performative and embarrassed me.

And now small memories connected to bigger memories layer themselves in my mind, like pages falling onto a stack of other pages, succeeding each other, and I don’t know what to do with them all and I’m searching them. And then I come upon memories that are my visualizations of others’ stories and that is a strange problem – the way my imagination of someone else’s memory becomes my memory. Like this:

5. You told me about visiting the house of some other kids. They were poor and lived back in the woods. You walked and stood in the drive looking at their house from a distance. The poor kids were in the yard looking back and all of you were still and quiet, like feral animals assessing. And then the girl squatted down where she had stood, watching you the whole time, and peed.

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