As I age now I am aware that the tether to my earliest memories has grown thin, stretched by time until I know it will, of necessity, soon give way.
And so I spend spare moments trying to sort through my life as I recall it, selecting those moments that bear the effort of retethering so that time would be better served weakening others.
But the hidden beauty, I know, is that when a memory is gone, has fallen away, it often takes its shadow along, so there is no hint even of its prior existence, and you don’t mourn what you never had, even if you did.
It is that moment when the moon is a glaring crescent, slowly engulfed by the impending night— when the few clouds give out their fading glow in the jaundiced light of the sodium arc street lamp. It nestles the curb—at first a small bird— when touched, a twisted piece of root.
I want to walk into the weed-strewn aging cemetery, stand in the shadow of the expressway, peel the uncut grass from around her headstone. I remember her arthritic hands clutching mine, in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling of vinyl camphor borsht. I saw her last in a hospital bed where they catalog and store those awaiting death, stared at the well-tubed skeleton barely indenting starched white sheets. She smiled wanly and whispershouted my name—I held my ground unable to cross the river of years unwilling to touch her outstretched hand. She had no face then, no face now, only an even fainter smell of age of camphor of lilac of must.
Next to the polished headstone lies a small, twisted root. I wish it were a bird I could place gently on the lowest branch of the old maple that oversees her slow departure.
They say you must cherish your memories lest they slip away in the night, trying for a freedom you deny them.
I remember Ireland, knowing it was home although at the time I thought I was Ashkenazi and Portuguese, but my genes were trying to tell me something.
I remember driving a stick shift down narrow roads, always keeping in mind the advice, “if you hear the branches of the yellow gorse against the side of the car you’re fine, if you hear the stone of the fences you’ll have a large bill when you return the car.
She maintained an aura of what she imagined was elegance, a carefully constructed persona carried out in the most careful details.
Her furniture had slipcovers, lest someone spill and mar the fabric, a tea cart always at the ready although I never saw her serve tea.
She spoke with carefully chosen words, certainly not the vernacular of the city, perhaps of London where she had been born.
Those she met would never guess that this was the same woman, who on the death of her husband, wielded a baseball bat in the liquor store she operated in the heart of downtown, one she had used on one occasion once enough that the word got out.
He will do it again tomorrow as he did yesterday and each day before that for as long as he can remember. He would like not to have to do it, but he knows he must, just as he knows the outcome will be almost the same, just the slightest of changes imperceptible from day to day. He doesn’t like the changes, and wishes he could reverse them. But although he has asked, the morning mirror says he cannot. And the mirror is not smiling.
You are still there. You have a patience that I will not know in this lifetime. I know I can always find you, even though you never reach out to me except in my dreams. There I tell you my life story and you listen intently. You have no need to ask questions, knowing I will tell the whole story in due time, And time is one thing you have that I, increasingly, lack. So I’ll be back for another visit soon and you will be waiting for me, mother.