I look through old photographs to remember. Even moments that feel like they happened yesterday, lose their clarity. This is where the pictures come in. I scan a page in my photo album and then go on to the next. Pictures seem to help soften out the edges of my memory. They fill in those gaps where details start to lose their luster. But at the end of the day, what do I really remember? I ponders this as I look at pictures of my father and mother. I wonders how many things I have just forgotten and how many things did I just not know?
Sometimes, childhood seems like a blur. Even now, looking back on it – I can barely scrape at my very first memory. Was it when I was five and had a tonsillectomy? I still remember the fear of being left alone at the hospital. The rain pelted against the windows and thunder rumbled. It was every child’s nightmare. I remember the promise of ice cream after the surgery. That was what they lured me with when I had the surgery. The ever hopeful promise of a couch filled with pillows and me surrounded by ice cream. Just as many other such promises later in life, it never did turn out the way you hope it does.
I do not remember the pain, but I do remember being left alone. Light filtered in my room from the hallway with an eerie yellowish glow and I was surrounded by other children, who somehow slept in their own narrow beds. I remember being surrounded by metal rails on the sides of my bed, being afraid and no one consoling me. Those feelings still haunt me – not on a daily basis, but whenever I walk into a hospital. The sheer smell of the hospital makes those memories flood to the surface and I feel a slight trepidation. The scent is rather hard to describe, it is not a bad smell or especially sterile, but it hits you the moment you walk through a hospital’s front doors.
Maybe that isn’t my first memory, but even further along in life there are things I have forgotten. I feel bad to admit that I don’t remember what my own grandmother looked like. She died when I was rather young, a boy of only ten, but I still remember how I felt at the moment I heard she had died. I remember the loss. Strangely enough, I forget most of the other details. I believe her eyes were blue and I do remember she always dyed her hair blond. I always wondered about that, growing up, why other kids had grandmothers with gray hair but mine was blond, but I never thought to ask. I see a vague image in my mind of her face, but looking over photographs, it makes me wonder if I truly remember her or if I am reminded of what she looks like from the photographs. Does everything slip away after a while?
I turn the pages and see another of my grandmother standing on the boat that first brought her to America. Right behind her stands the Statue of Liberty. She seems to hold a joyous smile and her eyes look full of hope. I can’t help but wonder what her journey was like. I wonder what were her hopes and dreams. I wonder what were her obstacles and difficulties. I wonder so many things that I could not possibly count them and my heart breaks a little at the thought that I never had the opportunity to ask her.
She loved me way back when. She made sure I knew it. It was not apparent in the things she bought me; it was apparent in the intangible things she gave me. She believed in me. She believed in what I was capable of becoming and she enjoyed to watch me as I grew. She was a schoolteacher, but her love of learning never stopped once she stepped outside those school doors. I remember her helping me hold the scissors as she taught me how to cut out pages from a magazine. I remember her pulling out colored construction paper, pencil crayons, markers, and pastels. She always taught me to hold on to my imagination. Perhaps it was there that I found my love of art and making things with my own hands. To think that is where it has brought me today – an artist in my own right. I think she would be proud of who I became.
I fumble through the pages of my album and cannot help but shed a few tears. Some of them, perhaps are filled with love for the one person who meant so much in my life. Some of them, perhaps, are filled with the great loss that I have known since she died. Nothing and no one ever filled her shoes. Perhaps even more so, my tears are filled with regret. I cannot help but feel sad for the things I did not say to her. I feel sad for the things I did not ask. I also feel sad for not being able to share this journey with her. And looking through the photo album, wondering if we really remember anything… I worry that I have lost my grip on some of the most important memories of her.
Sure, I remember the way the plastic couch covers felt on my legs on hot afternoons after I played outdoors. I still remember the location of every room in her house, even though I have not seen it in over 40 years. I remember the way the back door slammed when we came indoors with the familiar shout of “don’t let the door slam” that came from grandmother while she sat at the dining room table. I remember that case of Yoohoos that grandmother always splurged on whenever we would visit that she kept hidden on the attic steps. And I remember the smells – the attic, the garage, her new car, everything.
Yet, I don’t remember all the details anymore and sometimes I wish that these rather trivial memories were replaced with those that mattered most. Since those days, I have lived a little more and other memories have replaced those that I most cherished. I have forgotten the way she spoke to me and I have forgotten all of our conversations. I have forgotten the way it felt when she would let me lay my head in her lap when I was angry or upset and how she soothed me by gently stroking my hair. I have forgotten the way it felt to go to the movie theater with her, candies hidden in her purse as a snack. I forget the way it felt for her to hold my hand. And yes, I am a grown man now – but perhaps because I am older, these things have become more important.
Now, I am a middle-aged father of two. I have held my children in my arms and have watched them quickly grow out of them. Soon, oh too soon, they will be parents themselves. Time passes much too quickly and I ask myself, what will they remember? What will I leave behind? And not much further beyond those questions, I also ask myself – what will be forgotten…
© Sumyanna 2017