Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Frailty of Memory

The little girl dropped my hand and her face began to crinkle and collapse in on itself slowly the way a piece of plastic does on a campfire. I reached out my arms and she hugged her body, her pointy elbows angled out impossibly. She let them drop and buried her face in my belly and she heaved and shook.

She was afraid that she would forget her mother, now one week gone.

You won’t forget her, ever, I told the girl, but she would. Today she remembered her mother as she’d seen her last, hair fuzzy as dust bunnies and skin thin as a treasure map. Some days the girl remembered her mother before she was sick and she would try to hold onto those days at the beach and those nights watching movies, but they would slip away as dreams do in the moments before waking.

She would think of the way her mother would fold a sheet or the curl of her mothers lip when she’d blow a wisp of hair from her eyes, and for a while she would catch her mother’s scent on a sofa pillow or a sweater, but soon she would remember only those Christmases and birthdays captured in pictures and she would invent memories from what she’d see in the photos.

She would not long be this little girl with the narrow shoulders and the tangled hair. Her body would lengthen and curve and she would become a woman by herself. A kind eyed neighbor, an aunt or friend would quietly offer help and she would refuse, preferring to keep her privacy. A time would come when she’d realize she hadn’t thought of her mother for many days and when she’d try, she’d only see flashes, a pair of sneakers, a silver necklace, a brand of soap.

She’d grow up and she’d realize that the mother she knew as a child was a stranger to her in her new woman’s life. She’d understand she never knew the woman her mother was and she’d wonder if they would have liked each other. She wouldn’t recall the sound of her mother’s voice or the cadence of her speech. She’d try to imagine who her mother might be had she lived. Her mother’s breasts would never sag, her hips never widen and lines wouldn’t mar her face. Her mother would be loving and wise and perfect.

One day she’d realize she’d passed her own mother’s age and she’d know her childhood mother was lost to her forever. Her aunts and uncles and older relatives would die and there would no longer be anyone left to ask, what was my mother like?

These things I could not tell this broken child, so I held her more closely and whispered to her that as long as she was alive, her mother would live in her heart and in her memory.

22 comments:

Susan said...

Heartwrenching yet hopeful. Beautifully done.

susan@spinning

Oh and Happy Easter!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh, my, this is stunning. It made me think of my mother, soon to turn 78, and of the little 9 year-old girl she was when her own mother died.

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, that was a punch. Very well done. You really captured something here.

Lisa said...

Susan, I'm glad it felt just a little hopeful. I saw a movie that was not particularly good, but at the end a little girl whose mother had died was crying and said those words so I wanted to dash something off about it. I might tinker some more with it.

Judy, There are lots of people who grow up without one or both parents and this loss of memories is a concept I wanted to explore. It was the poetry that initially got me thinking about it -- and then the cheesy movie pushed me over the edge and I had to try writing about it.

Charles, I suspect you know this morphing of memory somewhat from losing your father at a young age. Thank you. Is this what they call "flash fiction"?

Patti said...

i have missed so much in my fevered absence...i want to leave something of substance here, to pay tribute to this piece, yet i fear my words will be ridiculous, so i will keep it simple, for now.

well done, friend.

Lisa said...

Patti, I'm glad you're starting to feel better. The flu is a bitch -- and you never sound ridiculous. I'll take a "well done" anytime :)

kristenspina said...

Beautiful piece, Lisa. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Lisa said...

Kristen, Thank you.

Yogamum said...

Gorgeous piece, beautiful writing... and so touching.

debra said...

Oh, Lisa, this is beautiful. Thank you for gracing my day with this lovely piece.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Oh God, the lies we believe because things are easier that way! This is so damn true, it was exceedingly painful to read. I am dazzled, stunned and saddened. Did you ever expect to have such an influence over someone in a digital way?

Lisa said...

Yogamum, That means a lot coming from you. I hope your visit is all you all need it to be. xo

Debra, Thank you for always being so generous.

Orchid Hunter, There are some times when it would be cruel to do anything but lie. I'm truly surprised and appreciative of your kind words, so I guess the answer would be "no". If there is an influence, it's mutual. I just today started reading "The Raw Shark Texts" today, based on your recommendation.

steve said...

Lisa, this post was so profoundly sad and true that I couldn't comment on it right away. It made me think of Rexroth's poem, "Delia Rexroth," which begins:

"Under your illkempt yellow roses,
Delia, today you are younger
Than your son."

I had to reread it and digest it. In my reply to your comment on my post, I said, "don't short-sell your writing abilities." This is fine writing.

Lisa said...

Steve, I found "Delia Rexroth" and it's just haunting. Your words mean an awful lot. Thank you.

Shauna Roberts said...

Very sad, and the more so because it's so true. No matter how you try to hold on to those memories, they fade and morph.

Lisa said...

Shauna, I saw Tobias Wolff, who has written a number of great memoirs and short story collections and one thing that stuck with me that he said about his memoir "This Boy's Life" (it was made in to a movie in about '99 with Ellen Barkin, Robert Deniro and Leonardo DiCaprio) was that when he wrote about memories from his perspective as the young Toby, he had to write them from what his perspective was then. I think the distortion of memory over time is just as pertinent in fiction writing. It would be tempting to invent entire back stories for people within a novel, but if a character is remembering something from the past, it feels more genuine to me for them to have fragmented and distorted memories. It's interesting to me to remember relatives of mine who died at different stages of my life and to recognize the differences in how I saw them.

Ello said...

Lisa, I thought this was incredibly beautiful.

Lisa said...

Ello, Thank you.

Billy said...

So much hope at the end of this poignant tale. Wow!!!!

Lisa said...

Billy, I appreciate that. This was pretty spontaneous and to be truthful, I wasn't too sure about the end. I'm still not certain it's not too sentimental or cliche. Thanks very much!

Melissa Marsh said...

Incredibly powerful, Lisa. Wow.

Lisa said...

Melissa,

Thank you. :)

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.


Virginia Woolf