BY STEFANI MUÑOZ
It’s interesting the way we perceive memories so differently. I remember once that I read this science fiction book back in high school. And I can recall, quite clearly, a description of memories so profound I can scarcely force myself to forget.
It was about memories and their relativeness to objects. And those objects, over time, held the ability to retain memories of experiences and interactions throughout the duration of its existence to then one day, seemingly upon its own volition, display them as if it were instead a projector, outputting grainy images in hues of white and gray across all sorts of surfaces.
To solidify this concept in my mind I often imagine I have a necklace. And with that necklace I go about everyday life, its presence almost forgotten until I decide to remove it from its place around my neck, its metal warm to the touch. And as I place it somewhere where I will not forget, perhaps my night- stand or coffee table, it begins to project a myriad of scenes from the day, as if it were a projector relaying every single thing that I had experienced while wearing that necklace. I imagine that, for a second, any of my objects holds the potential to retain, in some way, a piece of my memory.
Surely we cannot hope to achieve literal meaning out of this. But it’s the idea, isn’t it? It’s the memory.
It was a Sunday and I remember driving home with my mom. It was still cold outside, the green pines on the side of the highway stark green against the gray hued world. But it was warm in the car and I remember the sound of the distant radio as we talked about things that I can no longer recall. I had picked up my phone, scrolled through and selected a name on my contacts that read “Daddy.” I sent a message.
An hour later we had arrived at my aunts, the mostimmediate people in my family gathering at her house for Sunday dinner. We often got together like this, my aunt opting to cook while we all huddled in her tiny living room, laughing and talking and feeling good. The smell of roasted chicken, newly mashed potatoes, and freshly baked bread was a balm to the senses. We felt safe and comfortable within her little apartment. It was the familiarity of it all; the routine. Just like how I checked my phone often, waiting for my screen to illuminate softly with an incoming message that I knew I would receive sooner or later. I had yet to get a reply.
I was at work when I received a call in the middle of the day. The first thing I saw was my dad’s picture pop up followed by his contact name “Daddy”. I don’t know why but I didn’t answer right away. You would think that, whatever it was, it couldn’t have been anything urgent. Maybe it was just a call from a father to his daughter, asking to see how she’s doing. Maybe he has a question about something, like when would be the next time that you could both go to the movies. Maybe he just wants to tell you that he loves you. But I know my dad and how particular he is when it comes to getting into contact with me. He’s the type of person to wait patiently, even if you haven't called him in a week and a half. He’s the kind of person to send you texts like: Hi my daughter, have you forgotten about me? : ).
But he hadn’t. And there was his face on my screen and all I could think were bad thoughts, the very sight of it sending my heart racing. I finally picked up. It wasn’t my dad on the phone, it was a man; someone that I did not know. And he had my dad’s phone. And all he said before hanging up was that my father had passed out behind the wheel and that the ambulance was on its way.
What had happened? Where was he? Is he ok? All of these things had passed through my mind and yet what I recall most is looking at the screen of my phone, “Daddy” splayed across the screen, as his picture smiled up at me.
It was fall and my mom and dad had brought me to Davis Farmland. It was still hot enough to wear t-shirts, though I remember the cool wind against my bare arms as I played in a sandbox filled with dried corn kernels. My mom and dad were to the side, smiling as if they were happy, even though a good distance stood between them. I was only seven but I understood what it meant when my mom moved us out of the house. My father had stayed. But they were there together and so for a while we could forget that there was something wrong; something that just couldn’t be fixed. But they seemed okay with it and so I was too.
My dad was a big man at the time, his handsome face not made any less so by the extra weight in his cheeks or his newly acquired belly. He had big hands that would expertly maneuver my hair into high ponytails and strong arms that would lift me onto his shoulders so I could spy over corn mazes. At one point we had gone to see the horses, their big hooves covered in mud as they towered over the fences. At the time I was terrified. They seemed to tower above me like giants. But my dad had always seemed taller.
I do not know how I can explain this to you as the outside observer. How does one explain grief? Or pain? How can I tell you in a way that you can understand? How can I make you feel it?
But I know that I can’t. Because I don’t want to. Sometimes you’ll hear a person say something like I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. And so I won’t pass this burden onto you. Instead I want to talk about memories and about this book that I’ve read that I wish I could forget but I can’t.
That’s the funny thing about memories. There are some that you’d wish you could have held onto but you can’t. And there are some that you’d wish you could have forgotten but you can’t. But this book? Yeah, it’s done something to me.
The first time I realized this was in the stuffy interior of a hospital room. It was on the first floor through the double doors, down the hall and to the left. The white curtains had been closed and I couldn’t step through. This was a boundary I could not cross. But I did. And the first thing the nurse said to me was this: do not touch him. And so I didn’t. But my fingers itched to touch the hand settled upon his round stomach as my heart raced and tore itself apart.
I did not touch him.
The second thing the nurse said was a question. She had moved across the room to a counter to where a plastic bag lay with carefully folded clothing.
“Do you want to keep his clothes?”
They were the clothes that he slept in, one of the last decisions he had ever made. But I shook my head. What was I going to do with clothes? But maybe she had known. Maybe, just by seeing my face, she had known that, some day, I would regret not taking those clothes home. Because now? All I can think about are the memoires. Of how, possibly, those last pieces of clothing might have held something of my dad within the very stitches. And that’s when it hit me. Subconsciously I had hidden this idea away; of how objects, on some level, may be able to retain the memories of people past and gone. Like a projector outputting grainy images in hues of white and gray against the darkness of your eyelids
A few weeks had gone by and I had finally been able to gather all of his things, down to the magnets from his fridge and the dusty sweaters forgotten at the bottom of some drawer. And I remember feeling a yearning so deep, so acute, that I could barely breathe. It was painful, putting these things away. And yet I packed every single item in its own place in a box. And each time I would lay an item out on my bed and stare at the ceiling, waiting for the faint images of forgotten memories to flash across its surface and illuminate the room. But soon each item had been packed away. And the room had stayed dark.
Perhaps I had hoped that, somehow, I would be able to see all of the things that I loved about my dad. Perhaps, in some strange moment of disillusionment, I had believed that what this book had made up could have been real; that his life would be portrayed in grainy images across my ceiling from the objects laid across my bed whenever I wanted. Because no matter how hard I held onto the memory, no matter how long I held onto those magnets and sweaters, its clarity soon began to fade, like pictures left too long in the sun.