Posted by: shelliejelly | September 23, 2008

Dear K.

Just before you died, you took me to your favorite place. A rock next to a stream that was a little difficult to get to, but we made it, you apologizing all the way for the dirt and the loose footing. I didn’t mind, but I nodded acknowledgement every time you looked back at me sheepishly.

We sat there in this secluded area watching the water below. The stream was calm, whispering to us as we looked on. “I remember this place differently,” you said to me. I knew what you meant, but I didn’t want to disturb your recollection, so I sat there as your eyes scanned the area.

I waited, but you didn’t go into any detail, so I made a list of possibilities in my head. Perhaps my intrusion, invited as I had been, somehow changed the feel for you. Or maybe you hadn’t been in awhile and your life had changed in ways that necessarily transformed your experience in this place. Maybe you hadn’t remembered correctly in the first place and we were actually sitting somewhere other than your favorite spot.

Or maybe, just maybe, memory is always going to trump reality. The problem with recollection is it’s stagnant and malleable at once, a contradiction in terms. I have concrete memories that I have come to realize, as most every one does, I’ve doctored and revised. Sometimes innocently—the color of the shoes I wore—and sometimes less so—the violence of the words, the seething anger.

Like two parallel lines running around and around our personal histories, memory helps us find lessons, learn from our mistakes, and remain hopeful in the face of despair or defeat. When reality bares her teeth, memory slaps her on the snout. When reality serves as succor, memory records an image.

In college, I attended a debate between an orchestra conductor and the president of the school about the repeat symbol. The question was when a musician hits a repeat, are they playing the exact same music over or is it somehow always different. The conductor’s argument was same notes, same music. The president of my college, however, believed that even playing the exact same notes would bring variation. The position of the musician’s fingers, the amount and length of their breath or the angle of their bow.

Would these variations be detectable to the listener? Most probably not. But that wasn’t really the point. The point was that nothing could be repeated in whole in exactly the same way. And, I think, memory is the same way. We push replay and expect, believe we’re watching an exact replica of a moment unfold. In reality, there are some variations, some fuzziness we fill in on our own. Taking deeper breaths, sharpening the angle of our bows, so to speak.

I know my memory of you is tricky. I know I get some things wrong, unconsciously dimming the lights on the few unfavorable moments while letting the good hum with electricity. But when that is all that is left, what do you do?



  1. […] grieving your loss. Some minor, like promising to sustain a ritual like letting a rose go at your favorite place. I think I did this once and then couldn’t bring myself, or got too lazy, to go again. Others […]

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