Memory is tricky thing. I’ve been seeing a lot of things recently that prove it not to be as solid as we like to believe. It seems memory is a bit more like a mental apparition, in that it takes on a translucent & evasive ‘shape’ and we must make of it what we can. The mind is constantly rewriting the past through our person biases or combining two separate events into one.
Unfortunately, at times, this leads us to disagreements with people regarding shared experiences. We say things happened one way, they say another. Previously, we would have just called these people liars. Now we must begin to understand that they may truly remember things the way that they say they do and for all that we know, our memories of the events are no more valid than theirs.
The ectoplasmic existence of memories also leads to the dreadful scenario where they disappear completely from our mind. This, of course, is most cruel when our memories of the dead begin to slip through the walls of our minds. It seems we never stop losing them. I’ve lost so much of my grandmother, that I fear one day everything but the concept of her will be erased.
What I have been experiencing lately is a third kind of spirit mind…a haunting if you will. This consists entirely of memories which are nothing but residuals. They are like keywords in a search engine, just fragments subtracted from meaning but once entered bring a flood of information. These breadcrumb pieces do not actively participate in the normal interactions of our brain. They are simply scraps of paper taped to the underside of the desk drawer in our head.
For example, I have a very indistinct memory of a late 70′s early 80′s Public Broadcasting children’s show buried in my head. It’s been driving me crazy because it’s such a fuzzy image that I cannot even describe it well enough to search the internet…though I have tried. I tried the hard way. Like a cop hunting through hundreds on DMV records for one license plate, I search for lists all PBS shows in the 70′s and the 80′s. And I still couldn’t find it. I fear that it is a show within a show like The Bloodhound Gang to 3-2-1 Contact or Mathnet to Square One. Anyhow, in searching these lists I found a lot of shows I had forgotten about like Slim Goodbody, The Great Space Coaster & All About You.
One of these shows that I stumbled across didn’t sound familiar to me at all but I pulled it up on YouTube anyhow. The second it started, everything came flooding back. The show was Today’s Special. I hadn’t thought about that show in almost 30 years. It never popped into my head once. It never showed up in any conversations. But the moment I saw the store window and heard the first piano chord, I realized I knew every word. And I mean every word. I knew everything that was said before it was said. It was probably one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve ever had. How could I remember it all? It wasn’t a popular show, it didn’t change my life, it was likely never played in reruns, but somehow it stayed with me my whole life. This truly brought home, to me, the concept that children remember far more than we give them credit for.
It happened to me again last night. Flipping through Netflix, I stumbled across Quincy M.E. I remembered that it was a big show when I was younger, so I decided to watch an episode to see if I could remember any of it. I did. Vividly. Once Quincy grabbed the sheet off the cadaver, I knew that all of the cadets would faint or puke. At first it struck me as strange that I was allowed to watch this show as a kid. After all it was a show about a Medical Examiner. The whole show revolved around autopsies & murder. What struck me next was a sudden understanding, or the question of one: Could my having seen this show at such a young age been a contributing factor in why I have always found true crime books & forensic shows so fascinating? (I also wonder if this is part of the reason I love typewriter’s as much as I do.)
What other ghostly mysteries in my head can I solve? In reading Paul Auster’s Winter Journal, I am reminded of one. Winter Journal, as Auster describes it, is a sensory catalog. Part of that catalog includes a list of every home he has lived in. I have lived in a lot of homes of my 35 years. Many during my childhood due to my mother’s financial difficulties as a single mother. We even lived in a motel for a period of a few months. Most of the places we lived, I either remember well enough to be innocuous, or they are so unimportant that they have been entirely forgotten…that is all but one place.
My memories of this specific house have all the solidity of a dream. Nothing about them seem real, but this house does exist. Or I suppose I should say that it existed? I found out this morning on Google Maps that it has been torn down and replaced with two smaller homes. Oddly, I had no address and yet I was somehow able to find it simply by zooming in on Sand City, California. In less than two minutes I found a location I hadn’t been to in 25 plus years.
I have no inane memories of this house like playing in the yard or watching TV on the couch or peeing in the toilet or waking up in my bed. The sum of what I remember about this house is contained in three hazy memories. The first memory is standing in the back of the house looking through the glass doors onto the back patio. I can’t tell if the glass is dirty, or fogged up or if it is simply cloudy outside. I don’t know what I’m looking at but I am looking for a long time and just thinking of it now makes my skin cold. Why would I remember this?
The second memory is of the flakey red see-saw on the side of the house. I remember see-sawing up and down. Which, as I think of it now is kind of strange. I had no friends at this time (as I said we moved a lot) and adults would be to heavy to see-saw back and forth with with a small child. Why can’t I see who’s there?
My third and finally memory is driving away from the house. In my hands are two cassette tapes. One is Michael Jackson’s Thriller & the other is Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. (This might be the last time my mother listen music that was cool.)
I wonder what those memories mean. Do they mean anything? Is there something that will one day trigger the full memories? Or are they just useless bubbles of information? Did I see something out the window? Or was I just bored, lonely & wishing I could play on a rainy day? I may never know. Try to remember your ghosts…can you?