12 September 2005
Not too long ago my credo, mental, emotional operating mode was to never spend anytime reflecting upon or reliving any of my memories. Oh, for sure, as required, I could and did remember whether or not I had paid a bill or done some other transaction but beyond that, not one moment was spent in my memories. Then, over time, I became aware that my memories began to feel like they were in a knapsack on my back and beginning to weigh me down and that somehow I would have to deal with them or the knapsack of memories would eventually topple me over. So, periodically, I would open the pack and dump it and go through various memories and it seemed to help lighten the load. I do not know why.
One technique I used for a very long time of opening the pack and looking around was to simply look at something, like a leaf on a tree and then let my mind jump into memory mode which would take me back to the leaves on a grape vine we had in our backyard as a kid and where my brother and I would pick and eat ripe, sweet grapes. From the grape vine to seeing bananas hanging from a banana tree for the first time in Hawaii to clearing out brush for the local swimming pool one summer. Just letting the mind jump wherever it wanted to through a cascade of memories.
Then, the other day, when I tried my memory knapsack technique of staring at something and letting my mind just take it from there, instead of a memory jump, I saw this giant dump truck, like those used in the giant open pit mines out West, which have tires about 10 feet tall and carry hundreds of tons, backed up to right in front of me and dumped its entire load of rip-rap type rock. What? Too much caffeine this morning? But then, when I looked, each one of the bowling ball size rocks was a memory, encapsulated in stone. Picking up one, it had the word “fast Fourier transform”, another a complete memory of standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and gazing on the vastness of it and more importantly, listening to the vastness of the silence. Rubble. Here in front of me were all my life’s memories in this massive pile of rubble.
Rubble is not how I have always thought of my memories. I have always thought that if there was a rewind button, I could just reverse the direction of time and I would move backward through my memories like a movie on a tape but here, in front of me was this massive pile in no particular order.
Picking up another rock it was the memory of hearing the death rattle of my father and then another, holding my son for the first time, another, that first kiss. On and on I go through the surface of the pile, picking up and looking and feeling: dip the grid; breaking my arm; fixing the flat tire on my first bicycle; sex for the first time; making love for the first time; a nightmare I had to wake from to get away from; getting an “A” on that test; standing hip deep in a river on a bright blue sky day fly fishing with my father and thinking that the day would go on forever; the sound of the cannon at dinner time at my college; seeing the Milky Way for the first time; speaking at the memorial service for my best friend; the smell of mashed potatoes; how the words of a certain song struck me so deeply and with such meaning as if they were written only for me; the face of a person I once know but the rubble memory did not come with a name; Dick Parks; Julie Andrews; Waylon Jennings; Arthur Ashe; the feel of an egg in my hand; on the house roof during a hurricane in the nude cleaning out clogged gutters; the pain of letting my father down when I could not tell him the truth like a man he thought I was; watermelon seeds and spitting them; sitting on the lifeguard stand and watching for hours and hours; putting a worm on a fishing hook; smoking pot for the first time; tripping on acid for the first time; sitting down to a meal of cow tongue and rice; eating dog meat in a small hooch in Korea and very grateful to be sharing what little meat they had; sick as a dog from drinking too much; worrying over how to be a good father; the sound of a fox howling at the moon; the smell of my sweat after a hard day’s work; the feel in my hands of wood sanded smooth; laying in front of a blazing fire with all the time in the world; watching as one of my daughters was handed her Master’s degree; firing up the weapon control platform gimble on a project at the Naval Research Laboratory; painting the shadow of a Fichus tree on our living room wall; making a coffee table out of a chicken coop; listening to my son play his Jim Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner in front of a middle school audience.
I step away from the massive pile of memory rubble as I have been overloaded, exhausted moving through so many memories so quickly and yet, I have hardly scratched the surface of the pile. Without even lifting any of the memories, I can see\feel\taste: “terrible 2’s”; “Blade Runner”; Julie Rassmon; Mary Penwell; Phil Haymaker; Roy Shoemaker; the smell of roast turkey on Thanksgiving day at my Grandmother Stultz’s house 50 years ago; shooting rats at the city dump in the middle of the night; holding the bicycle seat to balance one of my kids as they learned to ride.
Rubble. As I stare at the huge pile, I wonder what is under all the outer layers? What is at the very center, bottom of the pile? Is it the most important of all memories buried deep or is it of no more value than any other I have already picked up and moved aside or simply stared at? And I wonder do some memories have more value than others? I would think they do but does my memory mind have some sort of priority, weighting, system?
Although I can detect no time order or any order at all, is there some order to this memory rubble pile?
What am I supposed to do with this pile of memories, rubble? I am supposed to sort through it and keep some and discard others? Do I really need: fast Fourier transform; needle valve; cosine, tangent; intake manifold; my arm in a cast for 6 weeks; seeing my father hit my mother; disgust I had for my ignorant grandparents; anger; disappointment?
I walk around the pile of rubble which is my life, the memories from the quarry of my mind and random pickups yield: the peacefulness of canoeing down a river for a full day; sitting in front of a slot machine and having a winning combination come down on the pay line; sled riding down the side yard of the house I lived in as a kid; 30 below zero and how cold that was; the feel of a woman’s thigh for the first time, just above the stocking; walking my daughters down the isle at their marriage; taking communion for the first time and how spiritual I felt; the power of a chainsaw in my hands; 100MPH in a car; making love in the back seat of a car; “control alt delete”; tripping on acid when I went to see the movie “Apocalypse Now” and being totally freaked by it; long johns; jock strap; clicking my shoe heels together at military school; glasses on and glass off; mashing that ball over the fence to win the game in little league; the Vann family reunion; being vegetarian for years and years; watching another squirrel fall from a tree after I had blasted it with a shotgun; cleaning rabbits for dinner.
What a mess.
I have picked at the rubble and thrown some of the memories as far away from the pile as I can and yet I have moved nothing but I am tired, worn out, excited, confused. Why today? Why has this pile of memory rubble been brought to me today and by whom?
I turn away from the pile and try to find my way back to the here and now and slowly I begin to become and yet, I now know that the pile itself is one giant memory to be dealt with sooner or later but I do not have to pick through it all at one time.
Tons and tons of it in that pile. Why could it not just have been a movie? Why do I have to lift?
Rubble. Memories from the quarry of my mind.
I wonder if you have a memory rubble pile and have never told anyone?