Woke up late: A day off. I planned it that way.
But before that, I woke up every hour, on the hour, jumping up in bed and staring at the clock with the anxiety of someone whose memory was escaping her. And I would decipher the neon red numbers of the alarm, as if among them, I could find reminders of my missed appointments or, god forbid, any broken promises.
I swore I was forgetting something. But then, I would remember:
A day off. I planned it that way.
I would recline back into the stupor of my dreams, just to leap up again, in bed, an hour and a few dreams later, and stretch the memory for the things I was forgetting.
When I finally got up — late, on my day off — I made it over to the journal I used as a calendar (this year, I had refused to get myself a planner — a giant fuck you to my memory); and I stared at its pages for any suggestions of things I was forgetting. The coffee drip was already spitting at intervals; and truth be told, beginning a day — had never been my problem.
I remembered that, while staring at my handwriting and inhaling the first aromas of caffeine. The disorientation by dreams began to fade away. In my mind, in my memory, I could see the trajectory toward my desk: That’s where I start, every day, habitually.
Yet, I continued to stare at the pages — and at my handwriting; and I swore I was forgetting something.
I sensed my face: I was pouting. I don’t own big lips on me, but the lower one always insists on rolling out in my sleep, and it stays this way for the first hour of the day.
“Your grandfather always woke up like that,” my motha once told me, over a decade ago, while she could still witness my waking up, in her house. And after I had moved out for good, into my own adulthood — however untimely, every morning motha would find me waking up in her house, she would tell me again and again:
“Your grandfather — my daddy — always woke up like that.”
And I would find it amusing, the way genetic inheritance worked. We are talking eight decades now: six of his and three — of my own. He died too young and tragically. Yet, still, he showed up on my face. I guess, that’s one way to matter, in the chronology of the human race: on the faces of humans that follow our deaths. (But first, I would find it amusing that a grown woman would call her father “daddy”.)
Motha and I had both been the only children in our families. Her situation was a bit more tragic than mine: She had a younger brother. He died, and in the worst of ways: too young and tragically; without any witnesses — or even a body to bury after. No closure. And with him — seemingly went her memory.
Motha’s memory would begin to malfunction soon after her brother’s death. The first thing — was to block all matters related to the loss. It was a coping thing, most certainly: These brain synapses collapsing on themselves for the sake of further survival. Or, how else could one carry on, past such tragedy? How else — to persevere?
Surely, she would still remember the general story of his life, its chronology. But the details would be blocked out forever.
“My memory escapes me,” she would answer to all my inquiries. “I was too young. He was too young.”
I would stop asking.
But the second thing that changed — and that equated us, after my own birth — was the lack of opportunities to rerun mutual memories with her now missing sibling. No longer could she turn to him and say:
“Remember that one time…”
Somewhere, I once heard that repetition matters to children. That’s why they must ask the same questions over and over; or to provoke the adults to retell them the stories of their own short lives — their chronologies. So, for those with siblings, memory becomes easier to train; because one could always turn to a brother and say:
“Remember that one time…”
I’ve never had that: After my birth, motha decided, on my behalf, to never have another child. Just in case anything would happen to him or her — she wasn’t sure I could survive it. So, in her way, she was protecting me from my own possible tragic memories.
But any time she would find me waking up in her house, stumbling out into her kitchen for the first aromas of caffeine, she would study my face and say:
“My daddy always woke up like that.”
And she would wander off into a story — a story I most likely have already heard a dozen times before. Still, I would let her retell it — and I would listen — because repetition matters to memory. Repetition matters to children; and her brain synapses, collapsing on themselves, retracted my motha back to the little girl, with a younger sibling. So, I would become her equal — someone she could turn to and say:
“Remember that one time…”
Agreeably, I would behold. I would never embarrass her by interrupting the flow of her memory and say:
“You’ve already told me that!”
Or: “I’ve heard that one before!”
And neither would I ever embarrass others if I caught them in the midst of repeating a story, for the dozenth time. Because I could never predict the tragedy they may have had to survive, in their own chronologies, interrupted by bad memories. (And chances are, there is always a tragedy — such is the human statistic.)
Instead, I would behold. I would listen. And I would try to commit their stories to memory — my memory with its own collapsed synapses, from years of tiny tragedies I myself was trying to forget.