I have always believed that the things we remember- the small memories that for some reason, stick with us throughout our lives, have significance. The earliest childhood memories begin with just visuals. Later they come with narration or thoughts. But I strongly believed if you put those memories together, possibly in order though I’m not sure- you would create a poem or a collage that would somehow solve the riddle of your life- or at least decode some little mystery about yourself or confirm what you’ve already discovered.
In graduate school, I attempted a small and precarious piece about my own memories- the ones that stuck- which include the first time I saw myself bleed- stepping on a transparent piece of glass in between my home’s screen door and main door while running inside barefoot after running through a lawn sprinkler in the summer…stepping- also barefoot strangely- on a black mat outside the door of the hotel we stayed in every summer while vacationing in Cape Cod and having the sensation for a moment that the mat was ice cold- freezing- and then realizing- it was actually burning hot from the sun and stepping off quickly. Another one- thinking to myself while I helped stack preschool chairs in the daycare center my mother was working at- just after my fifth birthday- “I’m five now, but I don’t feel any different than I did when I was four.”
Then there are memories that even without the rest of the lines of the poem, can stand alone as obvious precursors. The little Asian boy I used to help while again, helping at the Y where my mother worked-when I must have been only three or four myself- because he didn’t speak English. The little Asian baby girl I held while working myself at a daycare in college and standing in a hallway thinking to myself (or maybe saying aloud?) “One day I’m going to have a little girl just like you,” years before I had so many Koreans in my life or had ever had the thought I might date or marry an Asian man. And there is a memory that has come back to me since you died- a visual of a Chagall painting hanging in my parents’ bedroom that I probably stared at when I was sick and lying in their bed. Some of my earliest memories are visual paintings that I must have stared up at while someone lied me down on a couch or bed as an infant… Anyway, this Chagall painting I was sure was a painting of two women…the blonde-haired woman was comforting the taller woman because her beloved had gone over that hill and turned into a goat right after giving her those flowers? I know it doesn’t make much sense- but the point is- I always felt so sad for that woman who lost the one she loved…
Well- I have two of those small, more recent memories with you that I think of quite often now. One of them is when I was living on West 56th Street one summer and you were coming over. I was waiting for you with such anxiety- I literally kept looking through the peephole of my apartment door every ten seconds to see if I would see your familiar figure walking up those deep red carpeted stairs. I remember it because I was almost frantic while I waited though I really couldn’t figure out why since it was just an ordinary day. I think of that now- that frantic feeling- looking for you so hard I could almost imagine you there- but you weren’t- the way it is when you’re waiting a long time for a bus or train to arrive.
The second more recent memory that is ingrained with me is your last Father’s Day here with us. Audrey was just so full of joy that day and I snapped a few photographs of her in a pretty dress – the one she would wear to your funeral- just jumping up and down (as much as she could then) in our living room with a big smile on her face. Right before I took the photos, you were walking past and I told you, “She’s so happy you’re home and we’re all together- she’s never like this when you’re away.” And it was true- she seemed truly delighted to have you as you’d been gone the previous weekend at a musical festival. I think of that moment now all the time- when she’s talking about her imaginary friends or tells me in her little three year old voice, like yesterday, “I’m gonna sit down and look at all these albums so I can remember my dad- what he looked like and stuff like that,” and she sits for thirty minutes, making a pile, “Look at my pile!” of our photo albums- turning every page so carefully- so slowly.