Of dreams and the remains of memories

Brain research tells us that when people start losing their memories, emotional memory is the most persistent. I didn’t know that when I wrote the following. Or perhaps I did know it and have forgotten.

Aug. 16, 1998

She remembers the twelve-year-old sleeping on the cot beside hers – warm, brown, and breathing loudly. But he’s gone, long gone. This stranger coming in now, carnations in one hand, a mason jar in the other, this tall stranger with the strong brown arms – who is he?

She remembers to smile: her mouth smiles, anyway. She asks what he’s been up to. Somewhere in that conversation, there is a spark, a remembrance of laughter, from mouth to eyes to brain to heart – the heart is another muscle and needs to be exercised.

It’s eight o’clock and the visitors are leaving. He leans over the bed and reaches his arms around her. He pats her on the back and she holds herself up straight. “I’ll try to come again. I’ll come again,” he says. “See you, mom.”

This stranger is gone, but the boy, where did he go?

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Dark Queen

There was a time when I was still using Windows95 and hooked on Freecell.

April 7, 1998

Kid: Mom?

Mom: Hey hon.

K: Were you talking to yourself?

M: Why do you say that?

K: Let me put it this way. Stop talking to yourself. It’s scaring me.

M: I’m not talking to myself.

K: Well, you’re talking to somebody and I don’t see anyone.

M: All right. I’m talking to the computer.

K: And it’s talking to you?

M: Well, yeah. See, the Queen of Spades is….

K: Now you’re really scary.

M: Go back to bed.

K: How come I don’t get to play so late?

M: ‘Cause you have to go to school.

K: Mom, tomorrow’s a P.D. day.

M: ‘Cause you’re a kid.

K: Yeah? Well, you’re crazy.

M: Go to bed. We’ll talk in the morning.

K: It is morning.

M: Go to bed.

K: Only if you stop talking to yourself.

M: OK – go…. Now where was I?

K: I can hear you!

Must work to free the Queen. The Queen speaks when freed, gives advice on critical issues. “Invalid parameters. Try again.” Losing streak: the Queen can’t be freed; life falls apart. “Fatal error. This program is closing because of invalid input.” Students are macho, racist. Boyfriend becoming verbally abusive. “Enter user-defined string.”

Driving home after dinner with parents.

K: Mom, are you watching the road?

M: Aaaa… yeah, I’m watching the road.

K: The Queen of Spades isn’t here you know.

M: Yeah, I know.

Living Wages

Reuters headline yesterday: “Minimum wage fight hits the streets of nearly 200 U.S. cities”

Aug. 17, 1998

I went to work for a day and they paid me $70 an hour for six hours. At $7 an hour that’s 60 hours, or 42 hours at $10 an hour, more than a week’s work, standing on your feet all day, lifting heavy bolts of fabric, opening drawers of dress patterns, bending and heaving, cutting and turning, until you hurt your back, your wrists, your legs. Arthritis, rheumatism, varicose veins, carpal tunnel, you’ve got it all. $10 an hour – that’s a lot of money. That’s a good job. They made you manager of the store.

“What about you? What do you do?”

“Oh, I – I teach. I work on my own. Not all the time. Just when they call me.” I mumble and avoid their eyes.

They look at me, not sure whether to feel sorry or envious. “It’s good to work for yourself. Set your own hours. No one to be your boss.”

“Ahh… well, I have to work when they call. It’s hard not to know when I have to work. A steady job is good.”

They feel sorry for me now. “Yes, a steady job is good. Bring in some money. Pay the bills. It’s not easy, getting a good job.”

Recent forays beyond the walls: Saint Joan

Saint Joan, the Arts Club production of George Bernard Shaw’s play, featured an amazing portrayal of Joan of Arc by Meg Roe. Shaw wrote the play after the canonization of Joan in 1920. In Shaw’s epilogue, the spectre of Joan asks: “[S]hall I rise from the dead, and come back to you a living woman?” As the men who were just revering the saint on their knees begin to make their excuses and leave, Joan says, “What? Must I burn again?” In this shortened version of the play, only the last lines of the epilogue, which in the original were voiced by Joan, were recited by Meg Roe:

“O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?”