Friday, November 6, 2009

the things we lost

My son is interested in memory, in how it works. Why certain images matter, why they stick with us. I think about memory all too much, my mother's is shot. She asks you the same question again and again, at ninety five she has her health and is losing her mind. Where does a mind go, once lost. Where do all the people go who you've keep alive by dint of remembering their faces, their names, the things you shared? My mother refuses to talk about her husband, my father, she keeps that part of her life, the part that matters most to me hidden. She talks thematically, for the entire month of January and February she reminded me that we were entering the next Great Depression, she knew, she'd been there before. It was, obviously, less than comforting.

My father has been dead for five years, and she's never once willingly brought him up. Has she forgotten that much about him? Or is it unbearable to remember? I'm sure a little of both. Aging is so lonely. I bear witness to how her life has gotten smaller and smaller, now I can cup my hand round it. If I close my fingers, then open them I find there's nothing much left. That's what my mother has . . .

Muriel lived to ninety eight. I thought of my mother as I wrote about her, but I knew that she'd lived long enough to lose her sister, her mother, her husband and her son. My mother used to say "It's horrible being a survivor." I couldn't argue with that. You can either fight against the reality, or give in to it. A lot depends on your innate reserves. I have no idea what mine are. But I hope that they'll be like those I imagined for Muriel. I wanted to believe she was like her sister, ferocious, a fighter. As life constricts there has to be a moment of taking joy in it. Of finding something to laugh at, even as it fells us. If not, we're done for.

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