by Patrick Dubuque
Last night was a forgettable night. We drove up to the grandparents’ house for Shipwreck Day. Felix, you slept downstairs with Mom, with questionable levels of success. Sylvie, for you we inflated your new little portable bed for overnight trips, and you cried into it for more than an hour. You woke up at five.
It’s weird being home. I got invited to my twenty-year high school reunion the other day. I won’t go, of course; not because it’ll be a room full of near-strangers awkwardly establishing a social pecking order (it will); I’m not ashamed of my weight or my career or any of the other standard variables for judgment (that much). Although we go to see my parents regularly, I’ve barely spoken to anyone from my hometown in a decade, and it’s nothing personal. I didn’t dislike high school. I just don’t remember it.
When I was young I knew I was smart, because I was told I was smart. For a long time, that was the extent of my metaphysics. Marriage taught me that I had certain blind spots in my mental processes regarding perception and bathrooms, and teaching taught me about various intelligences (why I remember things much better when I take notes). That was it. Otherwise I figured I was normal, in terms of brain.
You don’t realize that you’re beginning to forget. When elementary school turned to watercolor, I assumed that’s what everyone’s childhood was like. Or maybe my childhood was so idyllic, so calm and uneventful, that there was nothing but invisible warmth to take away. Middle school… who wouldn’t want to forget that? But then, as I got this reunion notice, as I paged through the scanned yearbook, I realized that it was mostly gone. A few snippets here or there that I can withdraw if necessary: my first kiss, on my doorstep the night of Prom my freshman year. Playing Maurice in our class rendition of Lord of the Flies: The Musical. But so much of the connective tissue is gone. My memories are like an aging basketball player’s knees.
The point of all this: I need to write more, for your sake as well as mine. I don’t want that gauze to slip over my twenties and thirties, but I can already feel it happening. It begins with the books. One of the things about aging, one of the defenses you create for yourself as you pass your physical peak, is that while you may not look as good or run as well as you did last year, you’re a lot wiser than that idiot. You’ve read. You’ve learned. And yet when I go back and look at the list of books I read in 2005: I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Lysistrata. I have no idea what Lord Arthur Seville’s crime was. I wouldn’t have known that I’d even read those books if I hadn’t made a note of it. How can I know this and be wise?
I’m not sure. But really, it doesn’t matter. The books, ultimately, can go. They’re not that important anyway, and if they were, I can only hope their lessons work their way into me and create the instincts for my next generation, an instinctual morality. But you two I can’t afford to lose. I need those anguished, pillow-muffled cries, the fact that you, Sylvie, sang “sylvie shiny shell” over and over to the abalone we bought you, and that you, Felix, kept muttering “da” whenever you’d lose sight of me in a crowd. We take photos, we record videos, but there are so many things we miss, that I already miss.
I want to remember them all. But barring that, I want us to read about them.