i've always felt pretty confident in my sense of direction. i'm no cartographer, but i can follow a grid. i like to get to know a space. i enjoy finding newness in familiarity; visiting the same place twice will never be the same as the first. i can't be sure if that is a function of memory's most slippery property or that there is no true repetition in life. it cirlces and winds, but never intersects at the very same point more than once.
several years ago i got lost in the fog on a hike i have done hundreds of times at all different times of day. there is a choice in direction at the highest point where i would always go left, toward the ocean. on this particular occasion it was early enough in the morning and the fog was so thick i completely lost my sense of direction. i stood there, paralyzed with indecision. i scratched my head at countless memories of this exact moment i knew i had lived so many times before. i began to think about how long it would be until the fog burned off and the clear day could emerge and guide me down the hillside. i stood there turning my head east, then west. into each direction there was just the white and shapeless world before me.
after some false alarms, i made it back down the trail into my car, and off to work. i don't remember the steps or into which direction i made to get there, as much as i couldn't remember the feeling of not knowing where to go next. somehow i had managed to return from planetless.
i think about memory all the time. the invention of it, the magic, the convenience, the inconvenience, and the ways in which we bend in order to make our stories fit. i wrestle with what i think my first memory is and i can't help but doubt the view from my mother's back at two years old. the lake and snow, her hair, the cold. none of it can be trusted. one because that happened over thirty years ago, and two, because i saw a picture once that captured that scene and i can't be sure if i adopted it for actual memory or if i just wish i could reach back and own that moment more.
my grandmother recently turned 90. we all gathered around her to celebrate and share in her incredible moment. looking around it was clear that having my brother and all my cousins and aunts and uncle together, was always and only something she could achieve.
i imagine that the five or so stories i have heard in rotation most of my life about her childhood are as close to the truth as can be. we've all heard them enough times throughout our lives that when sitting around a table we all put in the same requests. holding court, she repeated a story i've heard my whole life about a mischievious trip to the market she had a taken as a young girl. we could have all told the story in unison, attaching ourselves to each detail as though the story were as much about when we were eleven as it was when she had been.
the story ended the same way as it always had. we were all satisfied and in love with her voice when my brother took a chance on creating a new series. he asked her to tell us each a story about when we were little with her. beginning with him, of course, as he is the oldest.
she told a funny story about when he was little and precocious. we all laughed, hanging onto her every word, as she went on to tell even a few more about him. it's no secret they have a little bit of a thing going. he was the first grandchild and a boy. he also came with an unusual pair of bright blue eyes that pierced out into the world under a mop of black hair.
i came next. a sweet and hazel eyed girl. not less precocious by any stretch, but less blue eyed and less boy. so as my turn came up in order for a 'me and grandma' story she was visibly stumped. in her sweet and completely loving way, she went blank, and for a moment, we all got uncomfortable. there were no ali stories.
i know my grandma loves me, there is no question, as i love and admire her with all my heart. i know that memory has us all inside out. and at a table of full of family memories one would be hard-pressed to introduce a version of a shared moment without someone else's experience of the very same chiming in, and challenging the other.
trafficking them like ghosts between us, our memories only ever belong to the one. they can never repeat the very same through another's experience. i remember sitting at that table listening to my grandma trade stories with us about her experience of us. like a politician, she handled the event with care.
whether completely present in the moment or in it's wake--trading memories is like measuring the value of the worst moment you ever had versus the best. memory has currency in legacy--the haunting and the inspiring properties both exist like gangbusters in that beautiful and complicated fog.
i am a writer because i remember things best for the blur.