The Insistence of Memory
By Claudia Gresham
Since my son has been small enough to fit in a good-sized pocket, I have gone to bed at night and glared at the ceiling, furious with myself for not wringing more out of the day. I need a “life juicer,” to salvage more of the essence and less of the pith of life. I should have hoarded his wicked, full-body baby chortles, or even now, his deeper laugh that sneaks out of his cautious guard and spills over me like the smell of freshly cut grass. I must have missed so many opportunities to let him know how much I love him or how amazing and special he is. Why would I not play foosball with him? How much would it have hurt my productivity to stop and play hide and seek for just a few turns? Why is the minutia of life so pressing? How many times have I said, “Just five more minutes” as I plunked away on my keyboard, continued with the laundry or talked on the phone? Of course, I looked away for just a few moments, and now he is starting middle school. He’s totally outgrown any pocket I have.
I wonder what he will insist on remembering. I worry that he will remember only my lectures on standing closer to the toilet: “HOLD IT DOWN!” I’ve screeched. “DON’T PEE ON THE WALL!” I’m hoping he won’t recall my epic, drama queen moments when he’s pushed my last button with his sassy ass and sent me into bug-eyed, psycho-mommy mode. I’m hoping he’ll forget the time I burned his arm with Compound W, thinking those warts were actually warts (having no idea they were the start of a nasty, body-wide virus). I could only make a “very bad dog” face when the dermatologist looked at me curiously and said, “Let’s not do that to him again.” I hope he won’t remember the time I squawked, “You won’t leave the table until you finish your salmon and your milk.” (Note to parents: Never utter those words. You will regret them, most assuredly. Also, you will mop.)
Instead, I want him to remember the hours I’ve spent rocking him when he was sick. Maybe he’ll smile at the memory of my sitting patiently outside his guitar lessons, privately wondering if my money would be better spent if I simply heated the house by burning $20 bills. I want him to remember me there on field trips, following doggedly behind him at a strictly non-embarrassing distance, watching him grow into himself; screaming when he scored his only basket all season, even if the score wasn’t even close; pulling him outside, away from the flat, insincerity of video games, making him tell me all about his day in the sunshine; showing him how snakes really are beautiful smooth poetry; nurturing his embryonic passions for creating and science; holding him close in a thunderstorm; reading a thousand books in an old, battered recliner that squeaked peacefully.
We don’t get to pick our children’s memories, sadly. My parents probably wouldn’t have chosen for me to remember a miserable camping trip that poured rain, tested short tempers, and forced us to scoot in a hostile clot towards the middle of the tent, away from the canvas walls that seeped. I remember it in minute, soggy detail, and in fact, refuse to camp to this day. I told my young boy scout that I would give him an organ, any organ, or all of my blood, but I wouldn’t camp with him. Ever. I expect my parents wish I didn’t remember my vomit-strewn trip to Williamsburg when I was 10. I’m certain I didn’t barf the entire vacation, but my memory, ever the drama queen, still languishes and cramps on that Holiday Inn’s cold tile floor. I know my persistent, bitchy memory defeats my parents who tried to give me more than just grainy, sullen Polaroids and a bad attitude towards family vacations.
Recently, I watched a silently weeping father, chin to his chest, praying, remembering, waiting for word of his son lost amid the rubble after the Oklahoma tornado raged. This made me remember the dazed Newtown parents and the unopened Christmas gifts under their trees. I think of the countless who drive home from the hospital, stunned, with no one making happy messes in the back seat. Their memories must poke holes with their sharp edges. I gather my memories close, thankful that they are still smooth and easy to handle.
Life is ripe. Now. It is so fragrant and intoxicating, we should juice it, squeeze the rind dry, and bottle this everyday magic. I want all those “five minutes” back. I want to run to catch up with my beautiful boy who is already racing away from me, hold him until he protests, put him in my pocket and keep him safely there; I will feed him beautiful, sustaining memories, inhale deeply, and listen to the steady, peaceful squeak of a rocker.
Claudia Gresham is an English and Zumba instructor at Stanly Community College in Albemarle, NC. She has published in Encore Magazine, Lonzie’s Fried Chicken Southern Literary Magazine and the Charlotte Observer. She is the single mom of 11-year-old Robert who embodies the spirited karma she had coming to her.
Art: Salvador DalÃ, The Persistence of Memory, 1931