I’m not usually a novelty coffee mug person but I saw this when I was running errands last Friday night.
It’s a blue bunny (like my bunny girl, Otis), I say “hop to it” frequently to kid and coparent, and the glasses and bowtie reminded me of something, but that memory glubglubbed just below the surface…a few days later I learned an old friend had passed…
And I realized that was who this mug was bringing to the surface. The memories followed and I was in that high school hallway again and Mr. Fleck was telling him I would be missing the end of my senior year, specifically finals. He told him it was because I was sick and would be in the hospital. Mr. Pryor cried. He cried, for me. I had not cried yet, because I had not been alone and safe enough and so much was unknown. But he cried. His compassion and his empathy for the process I was just beginning is an overwhelming, emotional memory. I am in the bookstore on Greenwich Avenue, a year and a half later, after I have crashed and burned through Kubler-Ross, picked my self up with M. Scott Peck, and dusted myself off with nourishing Bernie Siegel. He is happy to see me. I had been feeling rather ineffective and invisible and was teetering on the edge of a full blown existential crisis. I joke with him about putting barbed wire around the literature section and asking seekers of lit a few questions to determine if I would bestow upon them the precious volumes or if I would provide the corresponding Cliff Notes (it was summertime and even parents would come in to purchase the school required summer reading for their kids and most of them opted for the Cliff Notes over the full books). The next week another adored teacher from school came in. After that, I would see both of them, frequently, as they always stopped in to say hello.
After a year and a half of working at the bookstore, living at home, and indulging in a motley assortment of night courses at SUNY Purchase, I lept from the nest a second time and headed to Boston intending to pursue a degree and training in cinematography & camerawork.
Septic shock took me out of this body and mind a few months later, and when I was out of the coma and done with surgery, I learned to sit up, stand, and walk again. I learned to sit up and hold things in my hand. I held a spoon. A pencil. My Filofax.
For me the organizer was a diligent effort toward a resolution for the new year, to stop storing the details of college and work, all cluttered, in my brain. The black rubbery cover held my only memories, and as it was a newly started calendar and address book(it was only 2.5 weeks into January) it contained little. I didn’t recognize any names, but I started making phone calls because I was on a metric shit-ton of IV morphine. (Looking back, if I had not opened those pages and started dialing, out of a super-stoned, toddlerish curiosity, my son would not exist today, as his dad was under the C tab, and I was going alphabetically (but that is another story to share later).)
Some things, some people, were absent from my organizer, and ceased to exist in my sunshiny, spotless world.
Mr. Pryor. Mr. Vaught. Dr. Pavlica. Mr. Montgomery. Ms. Becker.
Until a friend told me of Dr. Pavlica’s passing. And then a few years later, with the magic of Facebook, the memory of Mont was returned, alive and well and exploring Greece with his wife. Then Mr. Vaught passed last year and that news returned him, to me.
Then this week, when I sipped my tea from my bowtied, spectacled blue bunny mug and read on Facebook that Mr. Pryor had passed away.
And there I was, near the start of this post, in the hallway, seeing my teacher, who I would call friend, crying for me and my broken pancreas.
That is the raw, shitty deal of amnesia.
I’d be more ok with not recalling the texture of my desk, and the phenolic odor of lab tables with hints of metal chair feet scraped against linoleum , the temperature of the air, the light through the tree shaded windows of the first floor science room, the smell of pencil shavings and warm, freshly exfoliated eraser crumbs, the temperature and the sound as my hand squorsquishes into a forgotten apple in my overloaded backpack.
I could lose that stuff and not mind.
I do not feel as generous about losing whole people.
I am not comfortable with misplacing entire friends, formative experiences, or the multisensory snapshots of spaces in which my life happened.
The endless gift of amnesia is that memories are reconnected and returned erratically and surprisingly. Even the memories rife with terror and pain have value now. Focusing on the return of objective memories is almost like fleshing out a visual, spatial, olfactory timeline and I permit myself to only dive far enough in – as though a bungee tether has me anchored in the present day- to view objective details enough that the Swamp of Sadness (that took took Artu and nearly swallowed Atreyu in Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story) cannot drag me into the sulking, sucking, stinking, deadly muck. This is a hard-earned, and worthy, skill to master, as every recall hides an abundance of pressure switches.
I have learned that even the terrifying, painful, and heartbreakingly sad memories are treasures when they are returned to me, and not because I love me some psychological torture and relish the PTSD experience, but because I’ve weathered enough in 41 years to spot the tiniest speck of glitter in a fetid heap of the ripest rot. And each wee sparkle fans out dendrites, bringing other memories closer.
I realized, a couple of weeks ago, that I don’t need many of these memories (reminds me of Harry’s rant about Auld Lang Syne in “When Harry Met Sally…”
Harry [about Auld Lang Syne]: What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?
Sally: Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about old friends.)
I don’t need them.
If I can’t remember them, I can only miss the idea of them (again, from “When Harry Met Sally…”: Harry Burns: Maybe I only miss the *idea* of Helen… No, I miss the whole Helen.) but these content-less hunts of time, occassionally spotted with foggy islands of indeterminate terrain and potentially combative or predatory or friendly fauna hidden by strangling vines, stinging nettle, poison ivy, and heady, delicate gardenia, hold importance to me and that curiosity is not decreased by my lust for information and tireless enthusiasm for connecting ideas.
I recognize my miss-filed memories are important, to me, but I newly recognize that I cannot mourn their absence. I am developing a more organic appreciation that most keepers of standard-issue (non-autistic, non-synesthetic) brains, who have not weathered two neurologically symptomatic endocrine tumors, do not remember every environmental, sensory, qualitative detail the way I do.
So I can relax now and not chomp at the bit quite so hard when it comes to the reclamation of every moment, every detail, every memory.
I am learning to curate my mind, my memories, my world while carefully maintaining integrity and feeding my hunger for personal objectivity through truth, facts.
It is through this (still very intentional, deliberate) curating and objectivity that I’m learning to express the more subjective and more primal parts of me (how I was trained to ignore those things is another story, for another time).
Rest in Peace, Mr. Pryor, and thank you. I’m sorry I misplaced you for so long and missed our friendship. You are remembered for your compassion, kindness, and your delightful wit and biting sarcasm. I’m glad I found you again.
Rebecca I. M.