Friday, April 23, 2010

Dear Dad,

Memory is a tricky thing. I never know how anyone can write a memoir or autobiography and fill it with such detail. I mean, even conversational detail. How does anyone remember so much of their lives so specifically? Do they keep a journal of every second always and forever? I don't think I could do it, Dad, to be honest with you. I find myself confounded by memory these days. As part of my work in therapy and trying to intentionally think of you and your death, I find myself trying to sit quietly and let thoughts and images wash over me. But what I'm having a hard time with is how I seem to be only able to conjure up visual memories of you from when you were sick - thinner than usual, your hair short and your face becoming gaunt; your movements and activities wrapped in pain and difficulty. It's not a mental image I cherish and yet it seems to eclipse so many others.

I know I have photos of you and I can look at them. But trying to conjure up pictures of you in my mind from actual interactions we had before you got sick seems harder and harder. It's like I can only remember seeing you through my own eyes from that time period. The other night I laid in bed deliberately thinking about and started to make myself go through memories of times we had together: The time you took me to my first comic book convention and bought me all 50 issues of the original Spider-Woman series. The time I got so freaked out from late night horror movie previews that I thought someone was breaking into your house and you jumped out of bed stark naked to confront them. The time I tripped and landed on my knees on my Chinese Checkers marbles and you told me I had to "walk it off" to make sure my knees didn't cramp up. The time you helped me pack up my apartment in Brooklyn so I could move to San Francisco and you joked that I should've worked in construction with you because I loved dismantling my old platform bed so much. And the memories kept coming like waves and I fell asleep remembering. But in each instance I couldn't seem to conjure up your face at the time, only the interiors and objects that surrounded us. But maybe this is normal. Maybe this is how memory works. We only remember people's faces and bodies from the moment we most recently saw them. But when I push myself to try this exercise with other people, my theory kind of falls apart.

But maybe that's actually only how memory works in tragedy. The physical changes you went through were more extreme than any I'd seen you go through in my life. You were always comfortingly the same, give or take a longer or shorter haircut. Your dress sense didn't change all that much and you always had the sort of permanent tan and lined face of a man who worked outside building buildings for most of his adult life. When Uncle C. gave me pictures of you from your childhood and teenage years I almost didn't recognize you from the smooth, paler skin of your face. And I don't dislike the memories I have of you from when you were sick. I would hate to have you think that because I know you didn't like me seeing you that way. But I am still going to try to conjure up your face in my mind from the past because I feel like it would be useful to "see" you in the memories I have. But I'm also going to keep reminding myself that it's the feelings those memories conjure for me that are far more important than the pictures in my head.

I love you, Dad,

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