It was one of those perfect fortune-cookie maxims. I stared at her for a minute and then opened my handbag. "That was amazing. I have to write that down," I said, digging for a pen through Larabar wrappers, binkies, Starbucks napkins, a plastic fork, two pairs of sunglasses... what can I say? The inside of my handbag is one animatronic space-octopus away from the Death Star garbage compactor room.
"Don't write it down," she said. I stopped digging. She had a German accent. I had not choice but to obey.
"But I really want to remember it."
"If it's important, you'll remember it."
I don't remember the first thing she said, the thing I wanted to write down so badly. But I remember the second thing.
If it's important, you'll remember it.
I have not found that to be true. Unless Johnny Depp's birthday and the entire screenplay of The American President are both SUPER important.
I remember so much fucking useless crap - celebrity fun facts (Ashton Kutcher has a twin brother with cerebral palsy), the dates of key turning points in the Northern Ireland conflict (Battle of the Boyne 1690 what what!), which cute shoe companies run wide in the toe (none. None of them. Bastards.) I have fantasies about competing in Cash Cab, in which the big money question is, "recite Aaron Sorkin's filmography in chronological order."
It seems like the less important something is, the more likely I am to find a cozy spot in the front row of my brain for that stupid factoid and all its little tweeny friends. My brain is like the movie theater on the opening day of a One Direction documentary. All these pissy little critters just hang out and squeal stupid shit for me to say in front of well-educated people whom I hope to impress.
Oh! She went to Harvard? TELL HER THAT BOSTON CREAM PIE IS, IN FACT, A CAKE! SAY IT!
If it's important, you'll remember it, she said. I CALL BULLSHIT.
I'm afraid of forgetting, because I have historical data to support that fear.
Every time I'm with my grandparents I am utterly entranced. They tell me a story about their lives that, even as they're telling it, I think, I want to remember this forever. This story, the way they still laugh at it even though they must've told it dozens of times in their life... this story is why I love them, why I'm so proud to be of them. I shall now weep.
Ten seconds later, I'm like, "Hm? Story? Toy Story? Fun fact! Did you know that Buzz Lightyear's original name was Lunar Larry? I KNOW, RIGHT?"
I would never pick Snack Wells Devil's Food cookies over a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, but that's exactly what it feels like I do. Except, you know, memories. The empty, processed particles remain, and the homemade, lovely, real goodness slips away.
I'm afraid of forgetting Chicken and Buster, their specific way, their nooks and crannies. I'm afraid of forgetting the quirk of Buster's eyebrow when he hears the word "cookie," and the way Chicken wrinkles his nose when he roars like a tiger. Nowhere am I more compulsive about beating back the tidal pull of forgetting than in my living room, watching my boys mill and bob like pigeons. Save it! I dive for my phone, take a picture, take ten. Get Buster's toes on the carpet! Get Chicken's fingernails!
It feels like each one of these details is the key to something profound and unreachable, and that if I could only lock up that split second, that facial expression, that turn of phrase, then I'd be able to keep some part of my children sweet, myself tender, forever.
That's why I take, not joking, about 100 pictures a day. That's 3,000 pics a month, baby. About 40k a year.
I know that no matter how moved I was by the sight of the shadow cast by my son's eyelashes, I will forget the exact warmth of the light, the way his lips purse with such muscularity when he sleeps. That won't be a story that I tell him on his sixteenth birthday. I won't remember it. I need to remember it. I take a picture of the shadow. It becomes just another square of color among tens of thousands of others, not breathing, not shining, a postcard. It drops like a pebble into the deep lake of days.
I guess I'm afraid of losing more than the memories. I guess I'm a mental hoarder.
I guess my fixation on the cataloguing of every moment that matters is my version of the fountain of youth. That's why I started writing this blog. It felt like too much was slipping by unexamined. It felt like moments of consequence excused themselves, hurried out of the room before they had the chance to introduce themselves. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you're that one time when Chicken made up a song about cereal bars? Move along bub. I've got to clear you out for Buster playing with his belly button and making a devious Joker face.
I see that it's impossible to remember everything, not least because every moment is a moment of consequence, and I don't have that kind of RAM. I'm not a supercomputer, or one of those accomplished individuals who can recite pi out to the 4 millionth number. I'm built for shorthand; we all are.
To that end, it seems like the only stories I do remember are the ones that adhere most closely to the Legend of Chicken - who he is in his broadest caricature. The time he saw a woman in a bright red pantsuit and dyed-to-match pumps, and he asked her, "where's mustard?"
But the times when I was moved to tears, the quietly beautiful seconds that I promised myself to capture, that I told so many people about because I hoped that they'd grow roots, like dreams retold after waking... they almost never stay forever. They flicker for a day, a week, before coming unstuck in the great gusts of every day's details, and soaring away forever.
I feel a little churning in my stomach when I meditate on how much has happened that I will not remember.
It helps to remember how little remembering matters, really.
It helps to think of my sons not as an IMDB entry - a list of their dates, quotables, credits, and fun facts - but as a Seurat painting, a billion tiny points of color that come together, somehow, at a distance, to make a shape I recognize.
It helps to trust that each moment of consequence - painful, ecstatic - will find its place in the sprawling, messy composition. I won't be able to find it among all the others. But I believe it will be there. If it's important, you'll remember it. If it's important, it will become part of you. You might not be able to single it out, that one point of purple, that one shade of blue, but it's there: barely, crucially deepening the curve of your browbone, lightening the brush of your fingers.
I believe that the shadow of eyelashes is there every night when I sneak into Chicken's room and lie, for a moment, for ten, on the floor next to him, listening to the soft scrape of his snores. (Funny story, six months ago one night Ryan was like, hey Chicken you wanna camp on the floor of your room tonight? And Chicken was like yeah! And Ryan was like, okay, just tonight though, okay?)
Nothing slips away; the pebble tossed in the deep lake is not gone. It is one of a million, that makes the bed, that holds the water, that shines back up on the moon and stars. Why on earth would you spend your time on your hands and knees digging in the grit for a pebble that you know is there? Why wouldn't you look up, instead?
I feel like I just regressed to freshman year poetry workshop again. Sorry, guys. It's 5:54 am and Buster just fell back asleep after waking up at 3. Lots of coffee + no sleep + dark, cold winter morning = Katie starts talking in poems.
I want to write about the difference between observing your life and participating in it. I want to write about how I understand now why it feels like everyone I know has three go-to stories from their childhood, upon which much of their adult identity is based. I've always been a bit of a scamp. When I was six...
I want to write about how children aren't simple just because they're small, and we owe them the courtesy of accepting - celebrating - their contradictions and complexity.
Those are all blog posts for another day, because this one is already a novel. Plus, now it's 6:26 am and I have to start the day.
I'll take a hundred pictures that won't save anything.
I'll forget a hundred pealing giggles and a hundred hideous whining screams.
I'll go to bed tonight different, just a bit, just a dot or two different than I was this morning.
If it's important you'll remember it.
If it's important, you won't have to.
|I won't remember this.|
I don't have to.