As I try to cement my memories, the death of my father creeps through summer.
The day is regenerated and then engraved in stone, and then resistive after exposure. To observe the development of photo-lithography is to perceive the stamping of my memories. Positive becomes negative, and back to positive. A process-leaden art, feeding on past images. My susceptible hands scratch away and superimpose warped testaments of my recollections, like individual witnesses at a trial. I print out at once differently and legitimately the same, layered event, attempting to strike an impersonal balance. Attempting to forgive my partial place in it all.
And as soon as the black and white shell is completed, the bruised memory has outgrown it. Whole series of watery representations of what was, each reproduction more worked than the one before. Trailing exponentially from reality. Progress towards the void. Every fact lost faster.
Overgrown, time waddles away.
“Last time we spoke, you said the day was like a mountain that you had not yet begun to climb. You said that you still cannot address the subject head-on, that you only walk around the perimeter of the subject. I think your mountain metaphor is very appropriate, and I think we should continue with this metaphor. We can begin by taking small steps upward. At the bottom of the mountain we can talk about your family’s camping trips and what they meant to you. Eventually, at the top of the mountain, we can talk about the day you and your father were at the creek when he had his heart attack. Let’s first talk about your childhood trips to the creek.”
The woman adjusts her glasses while reviewing her notepad. When she looks up her eyebrows are clinically arched with concern and interest. She meets with my younger siblings too, but not as frequently.
The leftover ink in the lines of my hands leaves criminal, black prints everywhere I touch. These days of winter are like cement setting too quickly for me to neatly shape. “I’m not sure I should.”
I look at my stained hands, and wonder if the human mind has any chance of true, memory preservation. Perhaps it is already too late for summer.
“I hesitate to talk about the better times. I have trouble explaining it, even to myself. It has something to do with the preciousness of the summer trips before my dad died. They were subtle, childhood memories and light-sensitive in my mind from the start, but it is not just that. It is as though one, single grieving thought can touch the surface and cause all the other, happy experiences to ripple away forever, or like window shopping. Even in the best circumstances, it is rare times when people can press their fingertips to the glass and look on harmlessly.
“I am not so sure I should air out those past summers, in case it is one of those other times, when I let the poison in and the changed memory leaves its fingerprints on me.”
Camping down in the canyon, the August noon was so bright it approached a whiteness that etched every parched stone in the creek bed a sharp, merciless shadow for a neighbor. The sound of cool water trickled out of the river, and us quieted, young campers squinted behind our sunglasses. Talk had been satisfied by breakfast, so my siblings and I simply smelled the heavy redwood duff as our father napped in the shade. We listened to our mother hum Patsy Cline while she read her book. We played old card games.
These were familiar notions that we had come to associate with all of summertime, hardly distinguishable from other family traditions that were likewise tinted with smells of barbecue and tent nylon, the tastes of barbecue and fresh blackberries still sun-warmed. The day was the same as the others, high contrast light with the summer heat resting deep under the skin, everything viewed through that sleepy lens that comes with stretches of empty, nonobligatory days. If we had been warned what was going to happen next, when my father and I decided to stay at the creek an extra day, even then we may not have noticed any difference from the old times. Maybe there were less newts in the swimming hole. Maybe the quiet became more deliberate. Wind only exhaled out of the trees.
There may have been hints then, in the retreating river, and the forest stillness, that the present had changed hands. There was a bodiless, vacuum-like sensation, as these memories crawled away from us. Never to be felt entirely again. And did we all imagine, at that exact moment:
There is no such thing any longer. This place does not exist anymore.
Photo credit: Aly Marie Ross