memory (beth)


Jason once tried to sketch memory as if it were a real thing. He had drawn memory as a blanket, a thin fabric of once-upon-a-times and don’t-ever-forgets covering something bright and glowing—a soul, maybe—with rips where kids forgot things like the rumble of a person’s voice when your head rests on their chest or the smell of them when their arm is wrapped around you. ~from The Reckless Club by Beth Vrabel

Some of the memories of my past that I wish I could travel back to~

hanging laundry on the line with my grandmother

this summer sitting on the picnic blanket celebrating my birthday with sandwiches and lemonade

traveling back to PA from VT in our tiny two-seater car with M after he asked me to marry him

getting unexpectedly snowed-in at school with my friends after graduation

laying back on the ground at an outdoor concert watching the clouds put on a show last summer

riding the train to Paris from Germany fourteen years ago this month

listening to Maira Kalman give us a tour, before standing in line with S to get my bag signed

the first night in my brand new apartment when my roommate come home with my first-ever puppy

Is the blanket for comfort, protection, or maybe a chance to get warm after a long, cold day.

Last week on Twitter I came across Matt Haig talking about timesickness, missing a certain time rather than place. It resonated and I’m still thinking about it. Maybe it comes from being stuck indoors for more than 9 months that has made me long to be able to wander. I go to work, I come home, basically the extent of the places I inhabit. At the beginning of all of this I had a sense of wanting to be elsewhere– you too? The Cape for sure. Our beloved house in Plymouth. But then further afield like Paris, Cornwall, Australia—because why not? Fantasies have no limitations, if I’m going to imagine myself somewhere else, why not go big??

But then those hopes faded and I found myself wishing to be elsewhen (one of my favorite phrases from The Time Traveler’s Wife) The days are unrelenting. They have a beige oatmeal blobby sameness to them and as a result my brain starts to revisit memories that feel comforting. They transport me without the bad feeling of the pandemic, meaning it’s impossible to visit so why not scroll through some of my favorite events from my past. (No need to recall the bad moments, just the ones that make me smile.)

Is it a cruel trick my mind plays on me or sustenance to get to the next good part? I don’t know if I know. Funny how times you could have sworn were a struggle, turn into good memories with enough space and distance. I think abut the tiny attic we lived in when T was born, we had 40 boxes we never unpacked and we shoved them into the closets that ran the length of the apartment. We stayed until T started crawling and I knew our days there were numbered. So many things about living there were problematic, obstacles everywhere. (Literally and figuratively.) Of course looking back now I think of the nightly baths with T in the sink while the CD of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman played on the stereo. And if someone granted me a wish and gave me the ability to go back to then, would I? Yes, I think I would. But the same holds true of high school and I know there are legions of people who swear they would never do that.

I am so curious to know how I/we will feel about this year many (many) years in the future. Will we be able to focus on the tiny silver linings? For me that’s the gift of having T home, even though he should be living in his first apartment. It was my online calligraphy classes, the Matt Nathanson livestreams, the houseplants, the bike rides, the slowing down from the frenetic hustle of busyness. (Or at least as much as we hustle in VT.) In the future I hope I don’t dwell on the anxiety and my fears, the day-to-day struggle of getting up and out of bed even though my body and brain were insistent upon staying under the blankets. The illness, the deaths, the lies, the unwillingness of people to wear a mask… The list of problems/difficulties/hardships from 2020 is long and painful. I don’t want to forget, maybe like 9/11 it will be a reminder, a cautionary tale for me.

Despite it all, I am not running into 2021 with wide-open arms. I’m afraid to have my hopes and expectations dashed. The bar is set pretty low, but I don’t know if I can survive another year like this one. I know there’s a vaccine and we are taking baby steps towards normalcy, but I am hesitant and cautious, though that’s nothing new.

And somehow Christmas and New Year’s are upon us. I have not bought any presents for anyone, and there’s not been even a smidge of baking. We have watched one holiday special with the promise of more. We haven’t even figured out what food we’ll have and the clock is ticking. Unfortunately, I have a big work deadline that’s taking up all my attention. Last night, though, was the Solstice and that brought us some hope. At the end of the evening, with everyone else in bed, I found myself swept up in the moment and lit every candle I could find. I stood in front of them, closed my eyes and wished for some help to battle the darkness. Not all candles are birthday candles, nor do they grant wishes, but it felt like the ritual I was needing.

My wish for you is that you have memories of this year. Good ones, like the smooth stones you pick up on the beach and let them roll around in your pocket. It’s a solid weight. It doesn’t hold you back, just keeps you grounded. Think of those songs or shows; those books, hobbies or people who were lifelines for you during this time. I don’t know if given the chance any of us would timetravel back to this year, but I hope you have stories. Ones you tell your children, or nieces and nephews. Stories that remind you of a time that the world went through something so horrific, but you came out on the other end a little changed, and a little thankful. Reminders of those you are living with and loving right now. Hold those dear ones close.

Dearest a, I hope the view outside your window brings you a quiet sense of the season, your word for next week is white.


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