Sunday, July 24, 2005

memory

I’ve been thinking about time and the past and the nature of my memories. If you consider memories as discrete fragments, how many do you have? How large are these pieces? If you think about your most current fragment of memory – the one that goes backwards from the moment you finish reading this sentence – how far back does it go without breaking up or losing details? Mine extends only a couple of days before losing resolution. I cannot, for example, remember what I was wearing last Tuesday, or the exact order of people I spoke to, or a phone number that I didn’t write down immediately, or what I had for lunch that day. So many small details I’ve lost, falling into the interstices between fragments.

Their small size and nature suggest that they are trivial, that their import has very little weight (“We remember only important things”), but sometimes the little things have significance too: by the way they associate with other things or people (“You wore a blue dress when we first met”), by the way they mark time (“There was this song, you know, it goes ‘do roh do roh do’ – it was playing over the radio around one of the coups”), by the way they color emotion (“I had forgotten I was mad at him, but when I saw him light a cigarette, the feeling came back”), or by the way they serve as triggers for vaster fragments (“One of my exes, the fifth or the sixth - she said things that made sense only years later, but I can't remember her family name”).

The small memories we lose are more numerous than those we actually recall. Added to the large fragments, these are all we remember, whether we attempt to relive life in reverse or skip to the earliest recollection and move forward from there.

If you sit down and try to list all your memories, you will most likely begin in a disordered frenzy, jotting things down as they come to you (or, if you are a more ordered sort, you will start at some point, likely your clearest memory of childhood, and take it from there). You will write down important things, events that resonate emotionally, people whom you loved or loved you, heartbreak, happiness, terror. Your large fragments can fill up pages and pages – but you need to stay clear of invention as you try to find details.

Much later, you will slow down, exhausted by the effort of the recalling the big things and find yourself detailing minutiae, names, colors, numbers, recipes, smells, games, TV shows, as your brain throws everything into the air as it seeks out more big things. You will repeat and repeat this until you have nothing to write; then realize, with heaviness in your heart, that memories are finite in number but infinite in scope. You will yearn to talk to someone else, to verify details, to plug holes, to correct specifics – but be wary, because memory by nature is subjective, and all the colorization is yours alone, not subject to any approving authority. They will resist fact-checks, in their purest state. And you will also begin to realize that some memories that you carry are not, in fact, your own – anecdotes and experiences of your parents, repeated hijinks of your friends, descriptions in a book, the sentiments of a poem – external recollections that have somehow, through unconscious assimilation, become part and parcel of you.

If you look at everything, you will inevitably begin to ask yourself questions:

Did that really happen?

Did I do that?

Was that really done to me?

How could I have loved her?

Where did the money go?

She did promise, didn't she?


Those are easy. The answers are as you make them. But afterwards, other questions will come:

Is my past truly just this collection of recollections? Is this the nature of history?

Is happiness so transient and determined to be fragmentary? Can't happiness be one long extended stretch?

Why do I remember certain things with clarity but for the life of me cannot recall what I know were important things? Does my mind select at a deeper level what to keep, what to throw away?

When past days meld into each other, what happens to all the small details? Is there a significance I'm missing?

Why do memories become colored with time? Why do some of them alter completely?

Why is the dimmest past painted in only broad strokes? Thirty years from now, what will I remember?


My earliest memories (the ones I personally recall, not the ones recounted to me by people who knew me then):

A) I am playing in a sandbox with a blonde boy, happily moving sand around with a trowel or a small spade. His name is Frankie. I must be 4 or 5 years old. I recall no other details – but this must be during the time we lived in Hollywood, California.

B) I am in my grandfather’s house in Dagomboy in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. I am sitting on the cement floor playing with a big plastic airplane. The plane’s body is thick and white. The wings are light blue. I am very happy because my uncle Meroy gave it to me. Afterwards, my lolo and I go digging for crabs at the beach.


Beyond these is quiet emptiness.

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