Take Me There
Ari Zeiger | October 5, 2015
Yesterday, I buckled in for one of those “I’ve put this off as long as possible, and it’s either now or never” grading sessions. This is the worst way to respond to student writing. When grading this way, I fall into the trap of seeing the stack of essays as so much front-yard grass to be mowed (“Whew! Got THAT side done; now for the other).
Even in yard work, there’s flakes and flickers of beauty to be found.
Sometimes. Enough times.
And so it was that yesterday, while reading student essays, I happened upon a true gem. One of my students wrote about her brain surgery and one of its chief fallouts: memory loss. She said that when, post surgery, nobody could explain why this was happening, why her memories could still be recalled but no longer re-experienced in her mind’s eye, she did the one thing available to her. She began jotting down every memory she could still see.
To me, it was as if she was walking up to the attic of her own mind, locating the box with all her undeveloped rolls of camera film, and then heading back downstairs, and then down another set of stairs . . . until landing in the basement and opening the utility closet that doubled as a darkroom. Every day, for as long it took, I imagined her unlocking the memories of her life, the ones that still remained, that hadn’t passed unrecorded, unremembered. Each roll of film — each squat tube of plastic — gave way to a moment in time, to facts and feelings, haircuts and birthdays, green couches long donated to Goodwill, and Uncle Hank holding two fishing poles while standing at the rear of the Pontiac Safari, the one with the red vinyl interior, the one without seat-belts or a tape deck.
And it got me thinking. What if we are ALL like this . . . losing our lives, losing the images of what we did, what we saw, who we loved, what we touched. What if we are all losing the landscape of memory. Not the script of life, but the stage, the “set,” the scene.
True, perhaps we don’t write these memories down because we can still see their rough outlines, can still make out the broad, general strokes of it all, can still see the breadcrumbs that, if pursued, would bring us all the way back inside those times, that day, that moment, the smile, that tear.
But how much of this is just wishful thinking? Yes, we can still access the faint impression of our past, but — really — what would truly come of it if we closed our eyes and said to ourselves, “Take me there.”
I’m not sure, and I’m afraid to find out.
To me, learning about my student’s memory loss made me reckon with what I’d like the luxury to ignore: Objects in the mirror [seem] closer than they actually are.
And, if I were to begin writing down everything I want to remember, need to remember, where would I start? How long would it take me? What would tumble out first?
- Dad making me a desk out of an old door and a bunch of cinder blocks.
- My friends on Parker Street growing up: Devin, Damon, Kiesha-Ray, Hannah, James, Evan, Tori.
- Seeing the Harlem Globetrotters in person. A huge bucket of water being tossed into the first row of the audience — water suddenly a spray of confetti, small specks of paper landing on my hair, my shoulders, my toes.