The Joy Menu #63: Stones
This is a memory. But it is also a thousand memories. It can be repeated so many times, only the fruit changes, the game we play, the location where we sit, undisturbed, unexpectant.
He stands in front of the sink with a knife and two apples.
He lifts one, cuts it in half, then does the same with the other. Then he cuts each half in half, until the pieces are small wedges, fit for small hands. Finally, he peels each slice with a long swipe of the knife and when all the wedges are as naked and exposed as flesh, he drops them—one by one like stones in a lake—into two open, waiting bowls.
Then he carries those bowls into the living room, where Benny and I are sitting, heads down, working on LEGOs. He rests each bowl on the low coffee table—one next to me, the other next to Benny—and turns away.
No words are spoken. No one looks up.
In seconds, we each choose a slice of apple and begin to eat.
This is a memory. But it is also a thousand memories. It can be repeated so many times, only the fruit changes, the game we play, the location where we sit, undisturbed, unexpectant: in our bedroom, at the kitchen table, with our palms open as we make our way out to the car.
Such memories, so guazy, so soft, so common, almost don’t warrant remembering. They serve as a trace currency: the essence of our childhoods, the essence of our family, the essence of being fathered by him.
It’s how we’re fed. How we’re loved. How he shares with us, gives us our vitamins.
Do we really see ourselves—our younger selves? When we remember, who is it that we’re actually remembering? Who is that boy in my mind’s eye? Who do I see when I see myself, my brother, my father?
Is the past a concrete thing, or malleable? Is it real or is it fiction?
Is it a movie we’ve cast ourselves, a portal back into a living place, an invention, incomplete but completable, a universe we own and furnish, a diorama or an edited photograph—or is it just a memory? Something we remember for being remembered by remembering?
“You write yourself so sad,” my mother tells me one week after reading the newsletter. “But you weren’t sad. You were really a happy kid. So sweet and kind. So funny.”
I don’t remember myself being unhappy. But I recognize that what I choose to process, the memories which I grab onto—which are the most vivid and call out to me with the loudest cries—are those laced with sadness.
Do these memories then, by nature of being remembered, define my self-vision? If they ask to be sorted, to be seen, to be understood, do they become the whole (or the majority) of my past?
Look at me: sitting alone while Benny plays Nintendo, daydreaming, isolated, lost in thought. Or: walking the schoolyard alone in furious concentration while all the kids around me screech and squeal and laugh.
Such images—those I come to again and again, which accompany my silent thoughts of self—they share a quality, a consistency, something influential, and heavy: they are artifacts of isolation, solo scenes of thought.
The great stories of my childhood aren’t embodied, they are seen.
Are they more photographic, or videographic, than felt? Not remembered as experiences, but as sights?
No; that’s not entirely true: I am there. I am in them. I feel what that boy feels (that boy who may be me).
There I am slamming Hot Wheel cars against the baseboards behind the couch. Feel the rumble. Feel that smack. There I am walking with my hand in my father’s (it’s warm and flush) as we make our way from the car (which smells of grease and gasoline) to the Indian restaurant (coriander, curry) to meet my grandparents (leather, polyester, soft) for dinner.
But are these scenes, themselves, acts of sight, acts of seeing, acts of witness, despite the senses I report?
Here I see myself sitting backwards on the couch with the dog, watching the quiet of the neighborhood.
There I am riding my bike past the elementary school on my way to the middle school, eyeing the playground where I used to play and wondering where my friends have gone.
Then I am walking through the high school parking lot, leaving behind a class which is stressful, my ears perked for the approach of the security guard who will turn me around and send me back to class (he never comes; he never does).
Later I am driving past the nook below the Woodbridge bridge where S. and I had our first kiss; I am wondering where the time has gone, how long it’s been, where she is now.
Last I see myself walking the Loop in silence, remembering the other times I walked the Loop with him—at 8 and 12 and 14 and 24 and 28.
These scenes, seen from a distance, are enshrined by dislocation. As if I carry such moments of separation in my pocket for easy access, quick draw. Do I feel comforted by their weight? Have worried them so smooth with my remembering that they're no longer rocks, but stones—recollected images collected from a past, recollected images collected from a self, a made self made safe, made simple, made naked and as unencumbered as flesh?
Are these images themselves images of a past-self-as-collector; wistful scenes collected from a wistful past. Or an idea of my past? An idea of my past self—as wistful, as sad, as soft?
And was I so wistful? Was I so lost? Did I spend so much time in my mind, separate and alone?
Yes and no.
What about the apples? What about the LEGOs?
What about the days I got off the couch, strapped myself into rollerblades, pushed my way against the neighborhood kids, fought for goals at the end of the cul-de-sac?
What about the times MZ’s mother made me eat tomatoes, and we skimmed the spines of his older brother’s Playboys?
Or the weekend days when MB and I hit tennis balls back and forth and back and forth?
Or the hours and hours Benny and I walked the eucalyptus path searching for snails to rescue?
All of it happened. All of it is real. All of it: the myriad kaleidoscopic expressions of my childhood, boyhood, life.
Why don’t I remember them instead?
(I do, though. When I ask myself to. Like today.)
Perhaps it’s because they are less complicated. Because they lack the rough edges, ridges that bother, that require worry, that ask to be rubbed down, to be robbed of their bite, defanged of their sharpness.
Or perhaps they just don’t fit the narrative I’ve sewn; the narrative which explains why I feel wistful now, why I sigh when I drive past schools, when I remember the specific heat of the California sun on the top of my head, when I cannot access what has already been lived, what has left me, what was but is no longer. When I wonder where all the kids I grew up with have gone. When I remember my father with fury, wanting only for him to be here now.
How invested am I in this version of my own self, my own past—this version defined by dislocation, by sadness, by loss?
And what would it take to change it, if indeed I even wanted to?
Onward to creative joy,
"Is it a movie we’ve cast ourselves, a portal back into a living place, an invention, incomplete but completable, a universe we own and furnish, a diorama or an edited photograph—or is it just a memory?"
"Have I worried them so smooth with my remembering that they're no longer rocks, but stones—recollected images collected from a past, recollected images collected from a self, a made self made safe, made simple, made naked and as unencumbered as flesh?"
"Or perhaps they just don’t fit the narrative I’ve sewn; the narrative which explains why I feel wistful now, why I sigh when I drive past schools, when I remember the specific heat of the California sun on the top of my head, when I cannot access what has already been lived, what has left me, what was but is no longer."
This is brilliant. This is the perfect explication of how memory works. This is childhood. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️