I hear this song and suddenly I’m cruising down the street I grew up on in my electric blue ’93 Chevy Beretta with a carload of my fellow high school cheerleaders, windows down because the air conditioning was broken (or, actually, never really worked), letting the easy breeze that comes from hitting 40 MPH between stop signs relieve us from the soupy mid-July air of Southern Ohio. We’d spent the weeks since school let out practicing non-stop in preparation for the cheerleading competition at the county fair, and now that the fair was over we were relishing our free time. However, we soon realized that there wasn’t much for a bunch of 16-year-olds to do with so much free time and so little cash; at 78¢/gallon, a tank of gas split four-ways would give us hours of fun doing what all the other teens did on hot summer afternoons: cruising.
Those afternoons cruising in a wide, distorted loop around the eight or ten blocks of town, represented some of the only typical teenage behavior I can remember. Aside from the fact that we were all cheerleaders, I didn’t have much in common with my cruising pals. I’d never really dated–in fact, never been kissed–while they were completely boy-crazy, hopping from one “relationship” to another. At parties I preferred to get a nice sugar buzz from too much Pepsi so that I could remember all the sloppy, embarrassing antics my more inebriated friends might pull, though always playing the good sober baby sitter who stops them from doing anything truly regrettable. I attended a fairly strict church, helped with Sunday School, and participated in the church’s bible quiz team on Sunday mornings while my friends slept in and slept off their Saturday night indiscretions. They were still my friends–great friends–and we got on with only a tiny bit of teasing for my Sandra Dee persona.
That summer we couldn’t get enough of The Bloodhound Gang–probably because none of us had CD players in our cars, so we were at the mercy of the repetitive playlist of the one radio station we could get in that wasn’t exclusively country music or gospel. The music of that summer always conjures up warm, happy memories, but this past winter on an unforgivably cold February morning, the droning repetition of The roof. The roof. The roof is on fire. had a cold, numbing effect as one of my old cheerleading friends and I sat in my living room watching her house across the street burn.
Do you ever stop to think about what a memory really is? Like exactly what it is that is sticking around our brains, how we store it, and how much detail we store? I sometimes wonder if memories, at least the kind we reproduce anecdotally, are just that–anecdotes–stories that we tell and retell to ourselves in our own mind. And as things that get told and retold are want to do, these stories morph as details blur or merge or disappear or get embellished (ever play the game Telephone?). So our memories are less like snapshots and souvenirs in a scrapbook and more like folklore–dangling from a thin cord of facts amidst a cloud of details and possibilities.
I think we’ve all asked ourselves at one point or another, or else have been asked, what our first real memory is. When do children start making memories, anyway? I can tell you things that happened when I was only a few months old, like the time I stole my cousin’s pacifier and clutched it–and my own– next to my face, giggling, while he bawled and screamed. But I’m certain that these are merely anecdotes related to me by other adults in my life and not real memories. I think I remember hitting that same cousin on the head with a hammer a couple of years later, but wonder if I only remember hearing this rather remarkable tale repeated by parents and other adult parties involved in ajudicating the situation in its aftermath.
I distinctly remember deciding when I was in first grade that my first real memory was of my cousin (yes, same one) biting me on the arm when I wouldn’t give him my Baby Glowworm (this might’ve been why I later hit him with that hammer!). But now I wonder if my memory of that event–which had no adult witnesses to retell the tale to me–is really just a story that I told myself, that I replayed in my little tow-head as I lay in my crib, and then in my big girl bed, until by the time I reached first grade it had solidified as a bone fide memory. I wonder.
But there are others types of memories I can’t explain in the same way. I can’t explain the way walking by a display of Love’s Baby Soft perfume after it’s just been sprayed brings to mind images of my hot pink Caboodles makeup case full of all my contraband cosmetics I used to hide in my closet; I’m certain I’ve never replayed a story like that (until just now, putting it into words). It’s more than just recognizing the smell and then associating it with a time and place in my past. The smell creates the memory, and suddenly I’m recalling slumber parties and dresses I wore on school picture day or to school dances that I didn’t remember I remembered.
Then there’s the memory of a familiar voice. Continue reading
I hate whining, at least outward whining. I have very little patience for whining from others–I like to think I provide a unique blend of tough love and optimism to snap my friends and acquaintances out of a pity party before it can grate at my last nerve. When I’m on my own, however, I frequently catch myself indulging in an extra heavy pour of whine. I like to think I’m just as tough on myself when I realize what I’m doing, but my response is usually 90% tough love, 10% optimism, and the optimism is often half-hearted. Luckily, this whining is typically inward whining–pity echoing inside my head and maybe finding outward manifestation in comfy sweats and unwashed hair pulled into a messy ponytail. Lately I fear my whining has been spilling outward to my web presence–particularly over on Twitter–so to those of you who keep up with me online…I apologize!
If this past week has taught me anything, it’s that whining really *is* a waste of time, because things could always be worse. I used to cheer myself up when I was feeling for the bottom of the barrel with the old addage, “Things can only get better from here.” After an unbearably stressful end to the summer which culminated in my decision to take a leave of absence from my graduate program and move cross-country, purging myself of most of my possessions in less than a month in preparation for this move, the self-pity had begun to come over me in daily waves, predictable as the tides. I was just starting to snap myself out of it in order to get done all the things one has to do when one decides to uproot and move three thousand miles in less than a week, using that “things can only get better” line when…
You know how you’ll be driving down the road and see some huge [box, tire tread, hunk of metal…etc.] in the middle of the lane and think, “Wow, glad I saw that and was able to swerve to avoid hitting it.” Continue reading
The last time I saw my grandfather alive he was crying.
In my 23 years I’d never seen him cry before. There was something so unsettling, so disjointed about the whole thing that I couldn’t acknowledge it. From across my grandparents’ living room–a room I’d spent more time in, perhaps, than any other room–it was difficult to make out the tears dampening the weathered skin behind his glasses. But when he said good-bye there was the unmistakeable crack in his voice–not from age or weariness, but from a half-sob being stifled behind a strong, proud facade.
For a split second–no, that’s too long–for the shortest moment I’ve ever been conscious of I contemplated crossing the room, back to him, for a final hug before I walked out the door. But that kind of contact would only intensify the tears, the ones we’re both trying desperately to hide by casting our eyes into the glimmers of sunlight filtering through the blinds in the window. And then I’d have to acknowledge that my grandfather–my hero–is crying. That I’m breaking his heart by leaving. I’m too young and headstrong to do this, so I dab the dampness from my eyes on my grandmother’s shoulder as I hug her goodbye. I walk to the car and suffer a series of deep sobs, shoulders shuddering huddled behind the steering wheel, before composing myself to drive the two blocks to my parents house to catch my ride to the airport.
It was January, and I was preparing to fly back to California after a wonderful Christmas break spent with family. Continue reading