Saturday, April 11, 2015

Layers and Juxtapositions

I am visiting my mother in the town and the house in which I grew up. I find I don't sleep well on my visits. Overactive brain, stimulated by memory. One memory connects to another which in turn leads to another until I feel as if my entire memory is unwinding in one continuous coil.

I drive by a house and remember someone who lived there. Names come rushing into my brain from forty years ago. I Google them in the middle of my sleepless night, curious of what has become of them. Often no traces remain, only the residue of memory. They have moved on just as have I.

I am struck by the countless changes to the town itself. Nothing stays the same. Our memories of place are multi-layered because places carry layers of history. So often I still picture a former building in my memory, juxtaposed with its newer incarnation.

I took my mother to a restaurant and when we entered I had an immediate sense of déjà vu. I knew this place. I asked a waitress if it used to be a restaurant we frequented when I was a child. She confirmed my hunch. The location on a busy street and the shape of the room were the only clues, everything else was different, but I could look over at our usual table and see the family of my childhood, watch my father dip his spoon into the whipped cream from my hot chocolate as I protested, guarding my mug carefully with my hand, albeit a little too late. It had a very Ghost of Christmas past feel to it.

Except for a brief break for college, I lived in this town until my mid 20s, my young adulthood, my early marriage, my first real job. My mother has lived in her home for close to 60 years. I moved away 36 years ago, fearful that I would turn into my parents if I stayed. For many of those years I returned only for a Thanksgiving visit. It is only as my parents began to age that I stepped up my game. When my father passed away I began to come for more extended periods to visit my mom. I began to connect with a few old friends who offered me a needed respite. As I drove around the town I found new haunts and rediscovered old ones, often in a new incarnation. I suppose I was as well.

Past and present juxtapose. Last night I got together with a friend. Years ago she and I together with a small group of women had worked to create a domestic abuse shelter. It grew out of a volunteer gig on a rape crisis line. I used to go to the hospital in the middle of the night to assist women who had been assaulted. My stomach clutched when the phone rang late at night.

Up the street from the restaurant at which I met my friend, was the insurance company that was my first job during the summer between college. I failed two typing tests, but they hired me anyway. The prior secretary filed a pillow under P and took a nap each day on the boss's couch. Why does this trivia take up real estate in my brain?

My friend and I spoke about her visit to her former home and I remembered my first home in this town as a young married woman. I could vividly recall every room, every piece of furniture. We laughed about the spool table in the living room and the orange crate end tables. I thought I was living well.

This morning I was reminiscing with friends over breakfast about a music venue/bar in an old barn that my ex-husband used to play at. We couldn't remember the name and I texted my sister who had once waitressed there. "Second Chance" she replied. I drove by there afterwards and chuckled at its reincarnation, now Second Chance Church.

So often this whole process of memory runs like a TV in the background. We don't pay close attention to its triggers. Because I am working on artwork on the theme of memory, I am hyper attuned. How did I get from here to there? What was the trigger? Where did it take me? I suppose I needed to live long enough to acquire the history to fully appreciate the layers and juxtapositions, the collapsing of time, the sudden jolts of the long forgotten.

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