Where Were You?

All I remember is being told that I’m not remembering, that the memory is now.

“This is happening,” they said.  “It isn’t over yet.”

But every present moment becomes a memory, inevitably and quickly.  Only one of those statements can be true, and I don’t know which.  So how can I trust any of them?

The act of remembering is my only present act.

I remember the smell of bread. It almost stank sometimes, sweet like horse shit. The breadknife, sawing into the crust, cracking, the shy interior trying not to be crushed.

Smell is perhaps my only beacon.  They say that the sense of smell is most closely tied to memory, but it’s hard to recreate a smell that’s not in your nose.  I try very hard to remember the cloves punched into oranges at Christmas-time, or a fresh bag of coffee beans, or the powder I patted on my son’s bottom. It’s faint and uncertain. I can remember the bread smell though, so maybe that means it is closer to now.  The memory of scent is a small thing, but it helps when not much else does.

There was a wool rug, dyed indigo, lying in the middle of the den. I read once that indigo is the first color they ever used for dye, because it came from plants and wasn’t very hard to collect.  Indigo is the most natural colour. And the den had those particular floorboards. They are weathered and trying to separate from each other. You can’t really see the cracks between them, but when you walk you can feel that some of them are bending up from the floor like they’re trying to get out.

What is there to say?  I loved him and my children and I always will, as far as I’m able to.  I  have a good memory. My children’s lives are in my head.

I can picture my daughter with a pink plastic basket. The bottom scraped the floor when she took it around to pick up her toys. My baby had this funny mix of playthings and she never seemed to mind throwing them all together for pretend. She would marry her teddy bear to her Barbie doll and they’d go live in a Lego house. Teddy and Barbie had a pet dog, and it was one of those robot dogs that was really popular on TV and in magazines.  It was the kind that slid around on four stiff legs and stopped every few steps to bark. They were so wobbly. All it took was a rug or another toy to trip them up.  Those legs just kicking back and forth in the empty air.  I remember the whirr whirr.

My little boy, my little man.  I’ll admit that I never liked to cut his hair.  Most children with his complexion are born blonde, but even when he was very small, his hair was the colour of dark chocolate.  It fell in a sheet halfway over his face when he bent his head down to dig trenches in the dirt.

Once my husband took my children in his lap, one on each knee, and they faced me like a tribunal of angels.  “Look at me,” he said.  “She’s five years old.  She’s five years old right now.” I don’t know exactly how long ago that was. I can’t trust what is said to be “now”.

The doctor told me I had a condition.  My brain re-routes sensation to long-term memory before it even hits the parietal lobe.  I’ve lost my sense of present time.  It’s funny.  I should say it feels like I’m dreaming but it doesn’t.  It just feels like I’m thinking.  It feels like I’m sitting in a room, not paying attention, and all I can do is think.

Where are they now?  What is happening now?  I don’t know.

When your life is nothing but memories, you start to pay more attention to the shape and form of memory. What does a memory look like?  It’s not golden and slightly blurred like in movies.  It’s not black and white, or full of shadows.  Maybe the colours are a little muted, but not all of them.  Certainly not my indigo rug.  That’s as bright as ever.  Emotions are boiled down and vivid like a strong tea.

I reminisce, always, about going into the backyard, which was bounded by a big wooden fence.  On the other side of that fence there used to be some cows, and then there was property development and endless construction, and then there were clean brick houses with white driveways, where the cows used to be.  I climbed the fence and could feel how the morning damp had crept into the wood. I went out into that field and touched the dried husks of crepe myrtle.  Be here now.  Be here now. I said to myself. But see, it’s already gone. I only had one chance to be here now, and I don’t know which chance that was. I remember the thing a thousand times, but when was it now?

I never have the chance to make my own decisions.  Everything I’ve done has already been done. I cannot act because I already have. Luckily, when I look back, I think I did the right things. But I hope I am a good mother. I hope I am a good person, now.

My husband walked in with a box that was already wrapped and told me it was my baby girl’s birthday.  I wrote my name on the card and told her how much I loved her and her brother.

I must have felt something, when I was “now”. Even as I remember myself, I remember myself holding them. I must have wanted something. To keep them, maybe.

She gave me a hug and said “thank you mommy”, and I remember the smell of her strawberry shampoo very well.

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