Picture’s still up from the first time I was in style
Kept a white square on the wall so I been there a while
Looking so funny that I know it’s gonna make you smile
Gonna make you smile
Foreverness, never stops
Not that I will ever see, never stops
Coming closer to me
She was still smiling ’bout the time that I pushed her away
But still it makes me cry cause I thought that I’d be okay
Door slamming shut on the words that she heard me say
What she heard me say
All my life, I wished for flight
I never thought I’d wait in line
Now that I can’t seem to fix my mind
Always thought that I’d have more time
Someone is telling a memory. It’s important to them. Somewhere inside them a word they say is indexed with emotion. Cross referenced with physical reaction. The signal is released from the memory center to the brain stem and from there electrical signals are sent off to the heart. Rate increases and blood fills the core. A person watching can see it. The person telling can feel it. It rushes. Like a tank filling. It rises in the neck and into the face where tributaries and capillaries fill up and pink the skin in the cheeks, the nose, the thin skin around the eyes. As it passes through this soft skin, the tear ducts are alarmed, and in the whites of their eyes we see the liquid collect and glaze. The muscles of the neck seem to tighten and the voice becomes strained against the flush. Hands shake and the body trembles. Manifestation of love and sorrow revealed in the autonomic display. Visceral.
How is it that memories, as intangible as ideas, can be stored in a physical location and take up physical space? Is memory concrete then? Like air, which though you cannot touch it, exists and takes up real space and is therefore not abstract like love or fear or belief.
How is it that seeing a pattern on a square of fabric can take you back to your childhood window seat and recall your childish feeling when a direct inquiry about your childhood conjures nothing emotional at all? How can hearing the certain sound of a certain screen door squeal take you immediately back to a place of joy? How can a smell contained in a random combination of ingredients somehow send little travelers to a physical space that no longer exists in real time?
I suspect that my own memories are stored differently than they should be. My brother seems to remember everything, and I remember nothing useful. My memories are sorted into weird groups, their in common traits, so far from obvious. One memory leads to another memory that has no relation to chronology. My parents’ bedspread was red and white when I was very little. And years later my terry cloth jumper is also red and white. So are my great grandmother’s mugs. The little locked playhouse in my grandmother’s backyard. The Barbie case too. And the little ruby gemstone in the birthday figurine in my white hutch. They are in a pile of red and white things. To find these things I cannot look for time, I must look for color.
This red is my startling beginning. My mother is too young, but I now exist. And she who cannot yet fully care for herself must care for me. And she does it. And she does it well. And I did not know any different. Everything that was to be before no longer was. And everything that came to be after that was different. And the new thing was forever.
There is a picture of my mother, soon after returning home from the hospital after having me, in a red, silk nightgown. Her long, dark hair hanging down beside me. Her white arms around her new little baby. Later, it is Christmas and I am six months old in her lap; she has a red bandanna tied around her forehead, and she looks cool and lovely amid the wrapping paper and baby gifts. And she is standing in our little kitchen peeling the red paper off the bologna. And she is sitting on a lawn chair in front of my grandparent’s red brick house with white doors and red geraniums and white rocks.
I have other piles of colors too. Yellow and brown are together and connect many living rooms and carpets. She is there too, browning hamburger, pouring cinnamon applesauce, playing the piano, waiting for the coming tears as I talk on the phone with the long coiled cord. Cleaning is lemon yellow pledge and James Taylor and brown is TV and hiding under tables. Pinks and pastels are the colors of my bunny cereal bowl and Charlotte’s Web and 3rd and 4th grade. I am sick and Nathan has a big birthday party, and I cannot leave my room. She peaks her head in the door to check on me, brings me pink lemonade. She has surprised me with new clothes; pink pants and jacket laid out on my white eyelet bedspread. Green is the new baby and I watch her change him and rock him and love him and I love him and climb in his crib and dress him up. Green is the electric skillet she stands beside and the plants she puts in the front window. Black is the spatula in her hand turning things over. Black and blue are memories of a car too long in the sun and seats that burn the backs of my knees, and a baby brother asleep beside me. And my mother is driving and singing, and I am learning.
She is the constant. The unwavering. The high standard. The next right thing. The job well done. The gift perfectly given. She is the always. She is the there there. She is every memory embodied, located, sorted. Made tangible and alive. She is music and laughter and color. She is beauty and kindness and home and “there is something in the way she moves. looks my way or calls my name, that seems to leave this troubled world behind. And if I’m feeling down and blue, or troubled by some foolish gain, she always seems to make me change my mind.” –JT
She is my forever, and I, for her, am the moment that pivoted her existence into another to become a new thing. A newness. A thing unbidden but beautiful. Foreverness. A state of being. A quality of being.
And now, with the colors of my memories filling and swirling my identity too much, too many to count, they trigger the sequence of signals, head and heart and face and hands, and I am flooded with love and tenderness and tears. And my heart is beating faster, and my face is pink, and my eyes are glassy and it is hard to focus. The memories locked into all that is precious and good and forever.