Do you suppose memories are stored in a kind of great Library? Like the ones of antiquity, and a comprehensive card catalog (filled with time-worn cards all dog-eared, fingered, and browned with age) notates the time, and place and subject of each encounter, vision, smell and feeling in alphabetical, or chronological, or other kind of order of significance. And as you collect more and more memories, the aisles and rows of books all magically lengthen! They expand alongside our experiences and nothing, not even our less than impressive lunches, or boring school lectures, or the scent of a stranger’s perfume, goes uncatalogued. Prim librarians with pinched mouths shush you as you run up and down a long unexplored aisle, children you recognize guide you to sections of the place you thought were long destroyed. These guides often sit you down and insist you pour and pour over the pages of newly rediscovered volumes, or point the way toward your favorite titles, reminding you (harshly or gently) that you may have your favorites, but there are millions of unexplored volumes, not to mention a world beyond the library itself, begging to be explored.
From the time I was little, I have always clutched fiercely onto ordinary moments. If I shut my eyes tightly and memorized every detail, I could paint and re-paint the moment with white-knuckle accuracy, then will myself to remember, over and over again. Writing it down felt like cheating, so I would stare and think and contemplate and document with my mind alone as I stored more and more details away, terrified that even one might escape me.
Would I remember the way I wept on my first day of school at El Rodeo School (in First Grade) when Tara Pascal denied it was the first day of Fall and called me a liar? Would I recall how I cried because I didn’t know anyone at my new school, and because my Mom had told me it was the first day of Fall, and I felt so alone? Or how Mrs. Divine held me and told me it was indeed, the first day of fall, and that everything was going to be alright?
Would I remember the taste of a Flintstone's push-up ice cream? the way the card board would get soggy, the way my heart sank when I reached the bottom?
Or recall being disheartened every time that girl Rebecca beat everyone else to the gold shoes in the dress-up box in pre-school?
How about the exact way mom’s eyes changed in the light?
Or the way my skin stuck to my Dad’s black leather work chair as I spun round and round accompanied by the beats of his vintage IBM typewriter?
What of all those seemingly forgettable everyday moments?
The thought of losing even one iota, one single shredded oddment, one miniscule scintilla, petrified eight-year-old me.
No matter how unremarkable they were,
I wanted them.
I wanted them all.
I still do.
But would they be there in twenty years? Would the bookmarks of my discarded volumes remain in their place, right where I had left them? Or, like all natural things would I return to find them turned to dust? Disintegrated by time and neglect? Might I return to the Great Memory Library to find that entire sections had been destroyed by a fire, or ravaged in a flood, or sold off to another city to pay for modern repairs?
I have been told that I have a photographic memory. But nearly thirty years of life on I have really only ever managed to hold onto what feels like a few measly scraps...
Neuroscientists say every memory is actually the memory of a memory, and every time we remember the same memory, it gets distorted slightly over and over again until at some unnameable point, all we are left with is the skeleton of truth draped in the fabrics of our imagination.
|The Great Memory Library|