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.”

Sad Pigeon Story

July 15, 1998

A pigeon, bald, smooth and shiny. Stick legs, walking on the paving stones at the side of the house, hurrying along ahead of me, stopping, then hurrying as I come up with my bucket, garden gloves and shovel. It stops when I stop to dig and pull. It moves away when I approach. Looks at me, walks into the plants, trying to keep its distance, a little hop and flutter, pit pit pitta. It reaches the front yard, doubles around and hurries to the back, sidelong glances at me digging and pulling. I go back with the bucket. It looks at me, head bobbing, skip, hop and flutter. It seems to like being on the paving beside the house, but it has to keep moving as I go back and forth with bucket, shovel, clippers and trowel.

Later, I hear voices outside the house. Two kids are looking under a parked car as other cars pass by. The pigeon pit-pats into the road, and the kids chase it back. They’re trying to catch it so it won’t get run over. But it’s under the car and the kids go away.

The next day I’m coming home from the gym and there’s a small smear with feathers on the road.

Red

The red of the chrysanthemums on my desk is as red as… as red as… as the red of the chrysanthemums. The ones before had some orange in the red. These have some blue in the red. I can’t stop looking at them. Looking at them, I can only feel the joy of redness.