Crucial things, the how's and why's that provide context
for our lives. They
just seem to slip
away while I'm not watching, just there
, there, out of
reach. I have no idea
, for example, why I am sitting in a greasy
just before closing time. I can still see, feel, taste the
world around me. The neon
sign above my head flickers on and off with a soft,
buzzing. The air tastes sour
, like spilt beer. In a far corner
of the room, behind an overturned table and around bottle-green shards of
, I can see two scrawny
cats fighting over a dropped piece of chicken.
But without history, without context, all of it is meaningless
The man staring at
me from the mirror behind the bar is about fifty. He has nervous, watery
blue eyes and a rapidly receding hairline. Natty, cheap brown suit. No tie. He
had a two- or three-day beard. He is me. How can that be me?
I don't know how I
got here, don't even know my name! But there are times when it comes back.
Slips back into my mind like a wayward child, skulking home in the strange
and silent early morning hours. Perched on a creaking barstool, sipping
something alcoholic, I am not expecting one of these times. I don't know when
the last one was; I don't remember.
man behind a counter says. He must be the bartender. The neon lights glint off
his shiny, bald head, and he squints at me through the smoke. "We're
about to close, buddy. Can you make it home alright?"
Buddy. Buddy. Bud,
hey buddy, we're here, bud, look out the window, just catch the ball, buddy, are
you alright, bud? Does it hurt?
And then I
remember. I remember my father, my mother. He was tall, so tall. Brown and blue,
kissing my mother against the wall when he thought I wasn't watching. She was
soft, cool air on a scratch, smooth, red-tipped fingers wrapped around mine.I remember the tangy smell of orange groves in California. I remember the blue
china plates my mother was so proud of, set carefully on the top shelf of the
cabinets. I remember dropping one of those plates, staring in childish horror at
the shattered, jagged pieces. I remember dating... dating... dating someone in
high school, heavy breathing and hot, sticky touches in the backseat of my
faded blue pickup truck. Curly blond hair that smelled so good against my
face. Dating Susan in high school.
I remember college.
Well, I remember some of college. Blurred, indistinct white porcelain toilet
seat. My god, did I really do that? and that? Adult life filters in, spotted
with paid and unpaid bills, cubicles, and a thousand first dates, blind
dates, bad dates. She had fun, I had fun, we didn't hit it off, it rained, I
didn't want salad, she didn't need help getting home, kiss, no kiss, come
inside, who are you, did we really-? And meanwhile, my body gains wrinkles and
I grab a bar napkin
and begin to write. My handwriting is cramped and painful, but I fill the napkin
with my messy scrawl and grab three more. Write it all down, capture
everything where you can see it, keep it, hold onto it when the rest fades away.
I pause to breathe, to look over what I have written. My memories, thick black
lines squeezed onto the dirty, off-white napkins. I am watching a movie, writing
subtitles for a film starring myself. I am seeing my own life. I am
Then I have a
wife. Laura. I see a honeymoon, somewhere tropical, complete with sticky
pink drinks and long walks under the sunset-red sky. Settling down, picking
furniture, we both liked the flower-print couch but disagreed on the wallpaper.
Fighting, making up. The doctor's weary, lined face as he tells us, says that
she will never have children, I'm sorry, I'll just leave you two alone for a
minute. Leave the room, staring at the blanks white walls and cheerful posters.
I hold her as she cries.
Then I remember
the beginning of the end. Losing my mind, forgetting the keys, the dog, the
door. The important meeting with my boss. We are making love when I forget my
wife's name for the first time. The doctors say that there's a problem with my
brain, something they can't completely explain. They have no idea, do they? Defective.
I am writing
again, furiously digging the pen into the napkin, into the wood of the bar
underneath. The bartender is watching me, holding his breath, not sure if he
should interrupt. I am on the verge of it, of remembering it. My own name. I
lost it back then, along with my wife's name and Susan and my mother's blue
china plates. My name, hovering just out of sight. There! There. If I can just
capture that, keep that, it'll hold everything in place. All I need is my name.
Reach out, grab it, set it down safely on the greasy napkin in the greasy bar
somewhere. My name, right there. My name my name name name name name.
away. And, as I stare at the smudged, angry lines, something else begins to
fade. The writing blurs, loses meaning. I am staring at the words, watching them
change to unintelligible chicken scratch. Scrawled, ancient patterns. Hieroglyphics.
The memories pour away, slipping through ever-widening cracks in my mind, and
the words on the napkins aren't words any more. I pour over the meaningless
black scrawls, trying to hold on to one memory. Just one. The blue china,
shattered on our wooden floor. White and blue, white and, white, white. Complete
I forget things.