I Remember … and so, on to forgetting

House sit Oct 2015

{What? Yes. 3 days in a row. I’m shocked, myself. And this post is only 750 words. So, my do not exceed 1000 words semi-promise, also met. As my dear Aunt Sissie would have said, “Huzzah!”}

Mornings chill enough to require wrapping in a blanket, Autumn. Here, where I am house/pet-sitting, there are chimes and smiling busts of goddesses, the names of whom I do not know. The pups wake me at five a.m. and I feed them and then coffee myself, out here, in silence, stillness, the soft embrace of the solitude of a world mostly still asleep.

Although Fall is my favorite season, September and October are full of difficult rememberings, navigation of which require of me much forgetting. But, unless one has lived one’s adult decades in complete denial and practiced ignorance – both, sadly, increasingly common – one can’t help but have discovered that a good deal of remembering is, finally, forgetting.

This week contained birthdays of three people I loved deeply, albeit in very different ways, all of whom are now dead: A sister. A lover. A friend.

It would be so much simpler if one-word labels could contain or communicate the truth of who those three were to me, but all the words in the world can’t capture the total truth of any relationship. Moments pass, and what seems in the now to be acid-etch-eternal, will, in the later when that now becomes then, transform into something less-so, or, even sometimes, fade completely.

I recall with what seems to me absolute clarity of detail a class-walk through a nearby wood with Sister Anthony during which my shoe lace came loose. Because I had not yet mastered the skill of tying and because I knew my classmates already suspected me of being what they called a sissy, I was afraid to ask for help. My shoe kept coming off, I began to cry. One of the others noticed and told Sister who stopped the walk – which was more unto a march, as Sister Anthony believed in discipline – and barked at me.

“Why are you crying?”

I mumbled something. Another sin.

“Speak clearly! Always clearly! If you’re going to waste others’ time speaking, at least give them the consideration of speaking up!”

“My shoe keeps coming off.”

“Well we’ll wait. Fix it.”

“I can’t tie my shoes yet.”

“And that’s why you’re crying?”

I did not reply. I looked at her, pleading. I believe it was the look in my eyes, the silent imploration to not make me any more outcast-object of derision than I already was that prompted her merciful approach.

“Continue, we’ll catch up. Don’t cross the road!”

She sent the others on their way, walked to me, her face softening from its usual hawkish hardness of spirit, guarding against whatever it was that had made her so cold and reserved, and she knelt down, tied my shoe with a gentleness I had never experienced from her before.

“Charlie, this world, it is hard for people like us, and there will be many, many things about which you will want to cry – far, far worse than this. Don’t waste your tears on a shoestring.”

Yes, I can still hear, see, and feel Sister Anthony as she was in that moment. Except, it seems too apocryphal. I doubt it happened at all. Or, if it did, not in that way. If it did, she did not mean to give me the message I have shaped from my remembering.

But, I remember. And though it is not, perhaps, fully the truth, this remembering is my reality. As are my rememberings of Sister, Lover, Friend – who could also variously be described as drug addict, rescuer, adulterer, defender, abuser, saviour, batterer, soldier, bruiser, confronter, liar, truth-teller, betrayer, destroyer, healer, borrower, denier, coward, soother, abandoner, mentor, supplier, supporter, dealer, good cop, bad cop, broken cop, bullshitter, laugh-giver, and, well, many, many words and stories and colors and moments – some of which, I now suspect, like Sister Anthony and the shoestring, apocryphal.

As Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Much of the remembering is choosing what to forget. Here is what is true – or, a surface truth – when each of the three died, we were not on close terms, those places of forgetting and remembering we shared were places of pain, were forgotten and remembered in very different ways, carving an abyss that swallowed all the love that had been, leaving anger, sorrow, and blank spaces we would fill in with our own efforts at forgetting.

Which, this week, seems to be all I can remember.

[Thanks to B.C.Dreyer, from Twitter, who mentioned today Ms. Dianne Reeves recording of Mr. Stephen Sondheim’s “I Remember” which fit perfectly into today’s post.]

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