My first real clear memory is of being four years old and sick. I remember how close the ceiling seemed to the bed, the chalky taste of a chewable Children’s Tylenol, the sour smell of fever. I have no idea if this really happened. But I remember.
Many times during Zee’s first year I took comfort from the fact that she would have no memory of my seemingly endless array of mistakes, not least of which was my rousing version of The Skeets on the Bus. (One day she will learn that they say “eff yer mudder” all through the town, but it will not be from me.) As my baby grows into a little girl, I can see her becoming the person she will be, and I wonder what she will remember.
A couple of nights ago I walked up a staircase I hadn’t ascended in years and felt my throat go thick with emotion at the scent; popcorn and spilled beer, salt and dampness, familiar and not. I hugged people I knew in another lifetime and raised a glass to a friend I will never again see in this one. We became a choir of voices as we went over all the old stories of remember when and what about the time and I can’t believe I never heard and yes, I remember.
It’s just snapshots, all of it. A Mickey Mouse shirt and a boyish grin behind a shot glass full of mystery liquor, a little girl on her daddy’s shoulders reaching up to a sky of pooling blue, the pebbled texture of a yellow bedspread that has been washed a hundred times. Memories are just the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, going over them again and again until they have the smoothness of polished stone. Something not real and yet the only real things we have.