Driving Sideways

Ever since the accident, I’ve been extra careful, especially when it snows. I can still feel the gravitational pull as my car slid across the ice, past a braking Honda Accord, and planted itself sideways in the ditch.

I’m sure my expression was one of shock. I kept thinking, “This isn’t really happening.” My brain had it on replay, the only phrase that made sense out of the chaotic wasteland that was my mind in those brief moments between driving down the road and being sideways in the ditch.

My mind still goes there every time it snows. I try not to drive by that spot, if I can help it, with the tree, and the house back a ways, and the ditch that I imagine still has the imprint of my Santa Fe in its depths. The car I slid past pulled over to the side of the road after I went into the ditch sideways, its driver scrambling out to assist me.

I am grateful for the kindness of strangers, always, but definitely then. I was in a state of shock. In my mind the whole accident was replaying in slow motion, over and over again. Continue reading “Driving Sideways”

Losing It Again

“I don’t want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

Memory is a fickle thing. It used to be my constant companion. People often asked me for clarification when anything involved a shared memory because they knew I would know what had really happened. It was a gift I guess I took for granted, that I lorded over others like Excalibur newly freed from the stone.

But unbeknownst to me while I was in the middle of that blessed time, memory was also fickle. I imagine it had begun curving away from me, its ends a bit frayed by time, without my even recognizing the shift. As time went on I started to lose fragments of my massive memory. I used to joke about it, back then.

“I guess that memory had to leave to make room for this one, right now,” I would tell people, but inside my brain this niggling doubt began inching its way in. Continue reading “Losing It Again”

July 2, 2005

10 years ago today I found out I was going to be a father. I remember it like it was yesterday — the anticipation, the nerves, the hope that it was indeed going to happen, that it wasn’t a cruel joke being played on me by God. And yet it seemed like God was on board from that day on as the child continued to grow in the womb, and at each checkup things were fine. I kept praying regardless, though, because I was just so used to things going wrong at the last possible moment. I held my breath.

Then I turned blue, and I had to exhale. And then she was born, my first child, my Alexa. She was born exercising her lungs, and she hasn’t stopped since. But on that first day when we found out she was “potential” we had no idea where it was going to go from there, what she would look like, if she had even latched on, if she was even a “she.” All we knew as we drove home from the clinic was that we wanted a child more than anything in the world.

And the call didn’t come as we sat there on the couch alternating between pretending we were watching Wimbledon and pretending we weren’t watching the phone. Until it finally came in the afternoon, when we had figured they weren’t going to call that day, that we would have to wait for either the good or the bad news, hoping that it would finally be good, and fearing that it would finally be bad. We huddled together with that fear and that anticipation swirling in our brains, but we didn’t talk about it.

Then the call came, and they spoke to my wife, and I sat there frozen like a statue, ears listening attentively to the faint hush of the voice from the other end of the line. And when it happened, when she said those words — the test came back POSITIVE — I let it all out, all those fears, all that pent up energy, all the guilt I felt for so long. I was going to be a father, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that could damped that feeling.

And there still isn’t. This one’s for you, Alexa, and for that day 10 years ago when we knew you would be ours.

Sam

Chatting With Lexi: On Memory

funny memory quotesI don’t think I’ll ever understand it. My 9-year old can clearly recall what happened 7 years ago in startling detail, from the clothes we were wearing to the shows she watched on television. She can remember every single one of her birthdays, the names of people she met once 5 years ago, and when I said that swear word when I hit my thumb with the hammer 6 years ago. But if I ask her what happened 5 minutes ago she’s completely clueless.

It drives me crazy, and I’ve been trying to do these techniques with her that are supposed to help out short-term memory, but nothing’s worked to this point. Today just added to it…

Me: Lexi, let’s get your homework out and get started.

Lexi: Well, I knoooow I put my folders in my bookbag.

Me: So get them out and let’s move along.

Lexi: Well, I knooooow I put my folders in my bookbag but they’re not there now.

Me: What do you mean? If you know you put them in there then they should be there now, right?

Lexi: But they’re not there.

Me: So you didn’t put them in your bookbag.

Lexi: But I know I did!

Me: Okay, so you “know” you put them in there, but they’re not there now, so you were mistaken, right?

Lexi: I guess so, but I don’t know what happened.

Me: I know what happened. You forgot to put them in there. You were probably distracted.

Lexi: I really thought I put them in there.

Me: Where was the last place you saw them?

Lexi: Well… I know they were on my desk before I put my chair up.

Me: So they’re probably still sitting there right now.

Lexi: But I know I put them in my bookbag.

Me: Okay, we’re done with that. They’re not there, so you didn’t put them there. They must still be on your desk at school.

Lexi: So what are we going to do?

Me: I’m going to take you back to school and you’re going to hope someone’s there who can let us back into your classroom to get your folders and planner.

Lexi: I hope somebody’s there to let us in.

Me: And you’re going to lose screen time for tonight because you haven’t taken care of your responsibility.

Lexi: NOOOOOO!

Me: You’re 9 years old now, Lexi. At some point you have to learn some memory skills. If you need your homework at home, then you have to make sure you put it in your bookbag.

Lexi: But I was sure it was in my bookbag.

Me [after taking a long breath]: It’s called double checking. Memory is like riding a bike, Lex. Once you learn how to make it go you can’t unlearn it. But you have to learn how to do it first, and the more you complain about not being able to remember the more you won’t be able to remember. I know you can do it.

Lexi: How do you know I can do it?

Me: Because you’re smart, Lexi. I’ve seen you put your mind to something and you get it done. You just need a little help with this one.

Lexi: Uh, can we go to school already, though? You’ve been talking for FOREVER and the room’s probably not open now.

Me: It won’t be my fault if we get there and the room’s not open. This is the second time you’ve forgotten and I’m taking you back for what you’ve forgotten. It won’t happen again.

Lexi: But what if I forget again?

Me: Then you’ll just lose your playtime the next day for not getting your homework done. Maybe that will be what it takes to help your memory.

Lexi: Yeah, I’ll remember then. You know, if I lose my playtime. I love playtime!

Me: And I love you.

Lexi: Daaaaaaad. Let’s go!

Sam

Significant Details

“Life is not significant details, illuminated by a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are.” ~Susan Sontag

When we look at photographs of ourselves as children we can sometimes laugh and talk about how we felt at the time, but do we honestly remember or are our “memories” mere byproducts of our parents telling us about the experience? There’s a photograph in my Mom’s apartment of me with a scrape on my forehead, and I have told the story ad nauseum throughout the years of my cousin Marcella, who was supposed to be watching us, of my Nana’s front stoop that was old and crumbling, and of my sister who egged me on. But how much of that is my true memory and how much has been pieced together for me by others?

As human beings, we naturally embellish. Even when we remember something perfectly it hardly ever gets repeated without something extra being added. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because we don’t think it’s worth repeating unless more happened than really happened. Or perhaps our minds just do it regardless, add in those details because we only caught bits and pieces when it was happening. Our brains are interesting that way, drawing connections and inserting transitions in events for continuity’s sake.

We never tell a remembrance the same way twice either, no matter how many people we tell. In each telling we either add or take out pieces with our audience in mind, even when we don’t realize it. I firmly believe that we subconsciously adjust our tales to fit the audience we’re regaling with the tale.

They say that every picture tells a story, that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that pictures don’t lie. But what a picture doesn’t tell are our thoughts when it was taken. Perhaps we were smiling to hide that we weren’t feeling well, or maybe our mouth was open in a scream, not in a laugh. Pictures are paused moments in time that capture merely the outward appearance. The rest we fill in over time with half-remembrances and with tales from others who were there.

As time passes the memories get even farther away from us so we have more holes to fill in. That’s one reason I like to write down experiences directly after the fact, so that they don’t get lost in the shuffle, so that when I go back in 10 years to revisit the experience I can go right back to the raw emotions and not just the photographic evidence. I imagine a time when I can access all of my raw emotional journal entries from my phone, so when someone asks me I can whip it out and read it word for word. That way the telling is the same despite audiences and the holes are all stitched up.

But what would be the fun in that?

Sam

Recognition

blankstare“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

There’s just something about faces. You know, the juxtaposition of eyes, nose, and a mouth, ears on the side, and whatever type of chin someone possesses. I have seen a plethora of faces in my lifetime. They come and go quickly through my periphery, but for the most part they aren’t forgotten. In fact, I remember most faces I’ve ever seen, which is really no exaggeration. Sometimes I’m proud of that fact, and other times it makes me dreadfully sad.

I saw a man today who I haven’t seen in over five years, but I recognized him right off. However, I didn’t approach him to catch up on old times. For one, we were merely acquaintances way back then, and for another, he obviously didn’t remember me. I used to take that personally, wondering how someone could just forget me like that, but admittedly I wasn’t a huge part of his life, and/or memorable enough to make the list of people he would automatically recall. I could have taken the time to refresh his memory, but what would have been the point? “Oh yeah, I know you now.”

What makes me sad, though, are the times when I see someone who was significant to me in some former life but who has no idea who I am when we pass. Sometimes I even say hi, and they look at me like I’m a total stranger, even though for a solid block of time we were as close as two peas in a banana peel. For some people is it just easier to move on and forget, and is that a positive or a negative thing? Continue reading “Recognition”

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