memory

Back then I didn't realize how Michael noticed and didn't notice, how sometimes he saw me and then, whole days and weeks, he didn't. How in that moment, I didn't matter. She laid claim to the past—her version of the past—aggressively, as if retrieving misdirected mail. So this was where she came from. This all belonged to her, her birthright, like a pair of pearl earrings or a post office bond. X marks the spot, and Irie put an X on everything she found, collecting bits and pieces (birth certificates, maps, army reports, news articles) and storing them under the sofa, so that as if by osmosis the richness of them would pass through the fabric while she was sleeping and seep right into her. Strangely, Daria was the final pulse of thought that passed through Archie just before he blacked out. It was the thought of a whore he met once twenty years ago, it was Daria and her smile that made him cover Mo’s apron with tears of joy as the butcher saved his life. He had seen her in his mind: a beautiful woman in a doorway with a come-hither look; and he realized he regretted not coming hither. If there was any chance of ever seeing a look like that again, then he wanted the second chance, he wanted the extra time. A barometric low hung over the Atlantic. It moved eastward toward a high-pressure area over Russia without as yet showing any inclination to bypass this high in a northerly direction. The isotherms and isotheres were functioning as they should. The air temperature was appropriate relative to the annual mean temperature and to the aperiodic monthly fluctuations of the temperature. The rising and setting of the sun, the moon, the phases of the moon, of Venus, of the rings of Saturn, and many other significant phenomena were all in accordance with the forecasts in the astronomical yearbooks. The water vapor in the air was at its maximal state of tension, while the humidity was minimal. In a word that characterizes the facts fairly accurately, even if it is a bit old-fashioned: It was a fine day in August 1913. They say the youngest kid of a family doesn’t remember himself very clearly because he has learned to rely on the memories of others, who are older and thus possess authority. Where his memory conflicts with theirs, it’s discarded as of little worth. What he believes to be his memory is more accurately described as a rag-bin of others’ memories, their overlapping testimonies of things that happened before his birth, including him. so it wasn’t a smart-ass remark, I don’t know what I know. It was just the truth. Most of the Co-op members, male and female, from the youngest who was eighteen to the eldest who was in his thirties, complained of home. It was fashionable among the Kilburn College students generally, Marianne noted, to complain of home, family. Her professors made witty jokes about “domestic American rituals”—Thanksgiving, Christmas gift-giving, family summer vacations—in such knowing ways, everyone in class laughed; or almost everyone. Marianne perceived that to be without a family in America is to be deprived not just of that family but of an entire arsenal of allusive material as cohesive as algae covering a pond. When she spoke, French or English, she spoke slowly, almost mechanically, with a swaying motion of her body as if she had within her some instrument for winding her words, in sentence-containers, up from a great depth where they had fallen or been banished; sometimes one felt as if they were extracted with difficulty, as if she herself had gone away down into the rock to hack them out and shake them clean—a long slow process which made her listeners impatient: usually Max or Michael took over the telling of a long story when the words appeared to fit it appeared to be growing scarce. I have forgotten what way I am facing. You have turned aside and are bowed down over the ditch. There was a moment there, I remember now, I was so plunged in sorrow I wouldn’t have heard a steam roller go over me. I saved his life once. I have not forgotten it. Incredible the first animal that dreamed of another animal. Monstrous the first vertebrae that succeeded in standing on two feet and thus spread terror among the beasts still normally and happily crawling close to the ground through the slime of creation. Astounding the first telephone call, the first boiling water, the first song, the first loincloth. Sometimes I think everything I’ve done those years, everything around me in fact, I don’t know if you feel this way but everything is vaguely—what—fictitious. He went out to get a pack of cigarettes and never came back. This is a thing you used to hear about disappearing men. It’s the final family mystery. All the mysteries of the family reach their culmination in the final passion of abandonment.
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