Seventy Four and Human

Seventy-four years old, the old man preserves his memories. Laboriously, he types them into the computer. This is easier on his hands than a pen and notepaper, but his arthritic fingers still ache with every hard stab to the keyboard.

When the bell rings, he stops. He is only allowed to write for an hour a day. His doctor daughter has forbidden any more. He occasionally wonders whether her medical advice is sound. Maybe she just doesn’t want him to get very far. Scared of what she might find out about him.

The old man never thinks of himself as one. He hears that seventy is the new fifty, and he would agree if he had the full use of his hands. But he has been degenerating since his early sixties and has never felt more tired in his life. He feels ill, not old.

He thinks of what he has written today. He doesn’t have a method, a system of chronology. He writes the memories as they come. Sometimes they are of his wooden toys and childhood friends. Sometimes they are of his mother’s death when he was working as a guard on a train in his late twenties.

Today he wrote about Luba, his first love. They were twelve and shared a birthday. They met on the streets of Boston, where both their families had ended up after fleeing Europe. They liked the same flavor of ice cream and the same music. They had very different opinions on kissing. Luba wanted to. He didn’t. The last time he saw her was when he graduated high school and she came to the ceremony as a drop-out watching some boy she was dating get his diploma.

This is the sort of thing the old man’s daughter doesn’t want to know, he thinks. She doesn’t want to believe he has ever been anything but hers, first her father and now her charge. She takes care of him and is a good girl, but she has never entirely believed he is human.

He hopes she will read his memories when he dies. He hopes she will understand. He hopes she will remember.

Memory+

My grandparents’ house has always been, and still is, my greatest place of comfort. Now it is a mere memory, one that I will never get to experience in reality again, and there are days when I feel crippled with grief because of that fact. Today was one of those days. I was standing in the shower, letting the hot water stream over my limbs – I had just gotten back from the gym and was feeling my muscles loosen up pleasantly – when I felt, for a moment, as if I were standing in the shower-stall at my grandparents’ place. They had two bathrooms, but the showers in each were identical. The water stream wasn’t very hard, but there was always hot water, no matter what. Incredibly, the same is true of my dorm.

As I stood there, I let my mind flow back through time and imagined what it would be like if I were transported back into one of my memories. I saw myself, younger, stepping out of the shower and wrapping myself up in one of the fluffy towels that had monograms stitched into them. I would then get dressed while the heater blasted loudly onto me and helped me dry quickly. I’d get a shiver when I came out of the bathroom, because the house was always air-conditioned. I would still have a hair towel resting over my shoulders so that my long hair wouldn’t get my shirt wet. I’d walk through the rooms (in this fantasy, everyone was out doing something) and find wherever I’d left my book. I’d make myself two slices of toast and spread peanut-butter thickly on them, and eat them fast while the peanut-butter was still melting into the bread. I’d then maybe take a piece of Entenmann’s chocolate fudge cake and eat it slowly. All this, you understand, while reading one of the books I’d recently purchased at Barnes & Noble.

I’d take the book into my bedroom and read, with the birds making noise outside. I might let myself fall asleep, wake up and read, fall asleep again. I would wake up to find my mother and my aunt sitting outside, by the pool, smoking and watching the sunset as they talked of everything. I’d settle next to them, maybe with a cup of hot-chocolate in the old sippy-cup that I always drank out of there, and let their words wash over me. Once in a while, I might say something clever and make them laugh.

We might take a walk down the street to see the twinkling lights of the city. Or we might be going out to dinner with my great-uncle and his family. Or perhaps we would simply stay in, play word-games or watch a film. Maybe they would do something else while I would go watch episodes of Roseanne on Nick@Nite.

I opened my eyes. I was at college, in the shower, with a limp yellow curtain instead of a glass-door beside me. I am twenty-one and have gone through five cycles of mourning – perhaps six, since I considered the sale of the house that my imagination took me to as a death in its own right. I am confused, obsessive, anxious and often depressed. These are facts that I cannot alter.

But – and this is an important “but” – I have the comfort of knowing that I will always hold memories sacredly, and will never wish to ignore the past. After all, the past can help the present feel a little bit better. As I smoothed my wet hair back and shut the water off in the shower, I felt a longing open up a hole within me, but it also exuded warmth that has kept my heart thumping all day long.

Stories

We’re all made of stories.

We’re all living stories.

We’re all making stories.

Everything in our lives can be seen as a story. There’s the story about how you were born, the story of whose braid you pulled in first grade, and when you got braces, and why you chose to take physics in high-school and where you had your first kiss.

We all tell stories every day. There’s the story you tell your best friend about how your date went last night, the story you tell your aunt about whose car you dented last week, and the one you tell your coworker about when the boss got drunk at the office party, and the one you tell your cat about why you’re giving him canned food instead of dry today, and the one you tell yourself about where you wish you were right now.

We all make up stories all the time, too. There’s the story of how you wish your father was alive, the story of whose life you’d want to try out for a day, and the story of when you’ll really feel like a grown-up for sure, and why you’re going to win the lottery next time and where you can picture yourself living in ten years.

But then, there are the missing stories.

The stories of horrible events that need to be suppressed.

The stories that you’ll never know, because there’s no one who can tell them to you.

The stories that will never be, because they’re too frightening to really accept.

Even then, though – there are stories. Every minute of every day of your life. They are stories.

Blasts From the Past

Isn’t it strange how things seem to synchronize in life? Sometimes it’s craving something sweet and suddenly discovering a cake mix you’ve had for months and forgotten about. Sometimes it’s driving along, thinking about how you really need to replace your toaster, and then seeing an appliance store the next time you stop at a red light. Sometimes it’s reaching your hand out to call a friend you haven’t spoken to for ages, and having the phone ring just at that moment with that person on the line calling you. Life is sometimes funny that way. Coincidences probably, or so my rational mind deduces, but it doesn’t take away the sweet taste of mystery that comes with it.

This week, I’ve made some remarkable findings. First, I found my old poetry notebook in which I’d copied, by hand, all the poems I’d written on the computer. Reading through the poems, I was surprised at how much of what I’d written then still applies to me, but in a different way.

Second, I most likely found the reason I don’t sleep well is because of something in my past – I never put two and two together until getting the input from someone else, but once I did, it clicked. Not that it’s helped me sleep better, but at least I know a likely reason for it.

Third, I got an email from OpenDiary, a website I used to write in during high-school. I had two diaries there; one written when I was sixteen, the other when I was seventeen. I accessed both diaries and downloaded them to my computer and read through some entries. As with the poetry notebook, it was a surprise to read my words back then and think how they mean something different, but still relevant, to me now. The best part, though, is that there are a few entries about the beginning of my relationship with Sir B. F. and those made me smile a great deal.

Last, I found my daily-calendar from senior year in high school. It’s full of lyrics, big decelerations of boredom, private jokes my friends and I had then and lots of hearts dedicated to Sir. B. F. as well as the various bands I was seriously into at the time. I loved finding the doodles I had done while bored out of my mind during class – a big Christmas tree with presents beneath it drawn on December 24, random cat and bunny drawings, some manga attempts.

It was strange, finding all these things day after day, but I enjoyed it. I love those weird synchronizations in life. How about you?

Objects’ Spirit

I often wonder whether or not inanimate objects have spirits of their own. Oh, I know it sounds absolutely crazy, but stay with me for a moment.

Haven’t you ever felt close to something that was just… well, a thing? A favorite mug, perhaps, or a painting that moved you. Maybe a childhood toy or stuffed-animal or a piece of jewelry or even the first car that you called your own. Of course, stuff is just stuff. We all know this. There’s no argument that if we had to choose between saving our friends and family from a fire or saving our things, we would choose the people in our lives over the mere objects that we’ve accumulated.

And yet, I always feel that the mere act of possessing something and appreciating it instills a kind of life in it. I find myself talking to my computer at times – sometimes aloud, sometimes only in my head. I know that I could never get rid of Beary-Bear or Twinkle, my favorite teddy-bears. I know that the bowl in which I pour my Quaker Squares in the morning seems to greet me cheerfully in the mornings when I dip my spoon into it.

What if objects actually did have some sort of life or spirit to them? What if they whispered amongst themselves when we went to sleep, chatting about how we used them during the day; complaining when we were unkind or rough or when they were ignored. What if they appreciated our attention or loathed it? What if our refrigerators were in love with our stoves?

Well, maybe they do have a life of their own. Maybe they do communicate. It would sure explain how when one appliance breaks, everything else seems to follow it in breaking. It would explain why some objects charm us and make us love them while some make us put them way back in the shelf or never buy them in the first place. It would explain that bizarre feeling when we get up to use the toilet at four in the morning and feel as if someone’s just stopped talking when we woke up.

Ah, the things one thinks about at midnight…

Victoria’s Secret [Part III]

“…And then,” Debbie concluded, “he said he knew I didn’t aprove of his art and that I was ashamed of him. Since then, it’s been hard convincing him to see me at all.”

“But it sounds to me like you’re proud of him!” Victoria exclaimed. She’d just listened to Debbie describing her son’s rollercoaster-style life for the last ten minutes, and Debbie’s eyes had shown in the faint glow of the cellphone screen with a deep love and admiration of her scattered boy.

“I am. I think his sculptures are beautiful. He thinks I’m full of it, though,” Debbie’s eyes filled again with tears. “I don’t know how to convince him differently. But,” she collected herself. “I do the best I can, as often as I can. I hope he’ll understand about today.”

Victoria nodded somberly. The man in the corner of the elevator gave a sudden phlegm-based cough and both Victoria and Debbie jumped. They’d almost forgotten he was there; he’d been utterly silent while Debbie spoke. Now, Debbie looked up at him with a half smile.

“Rob, sit down, Hun,” She said. “They’ll get us out of here eventually, but there’s no use standing like a lump in the corner. It isn’t going to make anything go any faster.” Victoria smiled inwardly at the motherly tone that Debbie used with this stout, stuffy little man. Rob wore an impeccable suit, obviously expensive, in charcoal grey, and his hair, so obviously oiled, had a little spike standing up out of it, as if he’d begun to run his hand through it before remembering that he mustn’t ruin his exquisite hairstyle.

“No, thank you, Debra, I’d rather stand,” he answered. Despite his look of calm snootiness, his voice sounded strained. His hands were stuffed in his pockets, and Victoria could tell that he was playing with something in his right hand, twisting something around and around in the pocket.

“What have you got there – Rob, is it?” she asked.

“It’s Robert. And it’s nothing.”

“Seems like something,” Victoria smiled at him. She had a way of smiling which she’d used on her younger brother when they were young – she still remembered how to do it. It had made her brother tremble with fear and then submission, and it did the same thing to Mr. It’s-Robert. He looked at her strangely, not sure of what her smile meant, and broke eye contact. He took his hand out of his pocket and showed Victoria a smooth, round stone, the kind that’s abundant on riverbanks. It was, Victoria noted, the perfect skipping stone, because it was smooth and rather flat. But then Rob held it out and the light caught it, and she saw that the stone wasn’t grey, as she’d thought at first, but rather a deep green. Then she saw that through the green were thick veins of a very dark red.

“What is it?” she asked wonderingly. It was beautiful.

“It’s a bloodstone,” Rob answered. “It’s the birthstone for March, and it’s very rare to find such fine specimans as this one. My wife and I went to India for our second honeymoon, and she bought me this as a surprise. It’s actually a funny story – we’d been in the market, and this old man without a word of English tried to sell it to us…” Rob’s voice trailed off. Victoria stared at him in wonder. Here was a man who she would never guess would have gone to India. For a second honeymoon, no less! People only have second honeymoons if they’re married for a while, right? Her thoughts were in a whirl at the image of this stuffy, haughty little man galavanting around Indian markets.

Vicky! she chided herself. You mean thing. As if you know anything about people by looking at them… If the world worked quite so simply you’d never have gotten to where you are. So say something nice now, and close your mouth.

“It’s a beautiful stone,” she murmered.

“Yes,” Rob seemed about to smile but then rearranged his facial expression into a frown. “When will they come to get us the hell out of here?”

“Soon, Hun,” Debbie answered wearily, pulling a bottle of water out of her purse. It was really getting hot in the small space. “I hope. Want some water, folks?”

Once Again With the Kids’ Books…

I know I’ve written about this before, but I cannot help delving into the subject again. What is it about children’s books that holds such a spell over me? I know that my memories of my books when I was a pre-teen are fond ones, and I know that the books I read over and over again as a child probably are what made me become such an avid reader in later life.

The reason I’m marveling at this again is because I just finished reading a story, a pre-teen story – I’ve joined a writing workshop where you critique other writers’ stories and in turn you eventually get to send in your own work and have it critiqued as well. I’m not brave enough to send anything of my own in yet, but I’ve been reading other writers’ works and enjoying it. So, as I said, I just finished reading a chapter book for children, probably for the ages of 8-11 or so.

The short book had me completely spell-bound. I felt like a kid again, giggling at talking cats and adoring the adventure and fantasy aspects of it. I felt warm and safe in the hold of a story that I could imagine having pictures accompanying it.

Nostalgia is something that overcomes me WAY too often.