Extract ‘Ties that Bind’
My memory had a tendency to leave me in the lurch. It was selective, sketchy and thoroughly unreliable. I couldn’t control it. Even the images I consciously tried to hang onto eventually slipped out of my grasp. Perhaps that was why I had become a photographer.
Sometimes when Vincent and I were together—sitting at a sidewalk café, laughing at a pun or a funny accent or a crazy woman passing by—during those rare moments when he and I connected, I would mentally focus my camera and press the button. How much of any particular moment could I remember now? At this point all I knew was that I was determined not to forget it. The moment itself had been eclipsed by my effort to save it from oblivion.
Why were my memories so sketchy? Why were some parts missing? For example, I could clearly remember one winter evening when I was about eight years old. It was dark out, and Vincent had already gone to bed. Dad hadn’t come home yet. The living room was enveloped in a rosy glow from the lamp on the sideboard. My mother lay down on the sofa and slid a pillow beneath her aching back. She was tired, so she sent me to my room.
As I crawled into bed, I suddenly felt sorry for my mother. She looked so sad, lying there all by herself on the sofa. Not wanting her to be alone, I hurried downstairs to comfort her. She pushed herself up on her elbow and told me that she no longer felt the least bit tired, that there was no need for me to feel sorry for her, and that I should scoot right back to bed. As I stood beside her in my oversized flannel PJ’s, my mother suddenly threw her arm around me. Did she also kiss my forehead? I don’t know.
It was such a vivid memory, and yet I couldn’t be sure. Had I made up that last part because she hadn’t kissed me and the thought of her coldness was more than I could bear? Or had I blocked it out because she had kissed me and the feeling of loss evoked by that memory was too painful? Had I tossed out the good memories, like I had in the aftermath of her death, when I had ripped up all the cards and letters she had ever sent me? Or did I find the idea of a distant mother less painful than that of a mother whose warmth I could no longer feel? I wondered if my memories were based on my subconscious wishes. Perhaps I should regard them as mere vignettes, loaded with symbolic meaning. Or did I select my memories to reflect my present thinking, the way a dictator rewrote his country’s history books?