I’m sitting here in my study having just read your letter for the third time, Hoke. Such an occasion is usually not worth mentioning, but tonight, while reading and commenting in these quiet morning hours, I’ve been simultaneously working my way through two tubs of Mi Ranchito salsa and a bottle of Mexican Coke. The coke is the lone holdover from a sixer I purchased for the Fourth of July; the salsa’s been sitting in the fridge since Conch’s birthday on the eighth. I initially snuck away to the kitchen for another can of Ginger Lime Diet Coke and a sensible two-hundred-calorie dessert, but when I spied the Ziploc bag filled with freshly made cantina chips—no preservatives to keep them crisp for a fortnight—I couldn’t stomach the thought of them going stale in the next day or two; if growing up with a once-poor parent instills in you anything, it’s to not waste food. So I uncovered the last Coke from where I’d hidden it in the garage-fridge—I love Coke with Mexican food—grabbed the half-eaten tub of salsa that accompanied the chips, and absconded to my study; no one but the scale Monday morning would know of my indiscretion. I reasoned also that once I finished the salsa, I’d have no choice but to return the remainder of the chips to the kitchen and retreat to my laptop reasonably satisfied. But it all tasted so wonderful—<quote-01>the salt and crunch of tortilla chips, the cold tang of salsa<quote-01>, the bubbly sweetness of cola—that when I finished off the half-eaten tub, I returned to the kitchen for the unopened one. This second tub is now emptier than the first when I began, the gallon bag of chips reduced to fragments and sediment. I record this memory here, I guess, so that I don’t only remember the guilt, so that I do remember the <quote-02>blissful little groove I found myself in<quote-02>, the easy back-and-forth of eating and editing like a game of catch, an hour of chips, dips, sips, tips, and clips. I can deny myself such pleasures another night.
Your revelation, Hoke, of the first foreboding moment in this still untold Lulo Saga, how an anxious chord clanged beneath the sweetest of summer symphonies two years ago, takes me back to another memorable August day—August 25th, 2007—the day of my wedding. First, however, I can’t help but return to a cherished image in my phone—a favorite of mine—a selfie of you and me during that Sunday afternoon game from 2018, the Seattle skyline beyond the left field bleachers behind us, beyond the bullpen where we watched Kersh get loose. I now scan your face for tells, your posture; you’re doing something kind of weird with your right hand. I’ve never noticed it before. I’m reaching, I think. Still, the image will take on a second life for me now, a subtext.
I’ve performed this sort of artifactual reexamination before, on footage from our wedding: looking to Kristen’s father’s eyes as he walked her down the aisle, listening to his voice as he made his toast, scrutinizing his demeanor during their dance. You see, he learned the day before—the morning of <quote-03>our rehearsal dinner<quote-03>—that he’d been unceremoniously fired from his job of thirty-plus years; Kristen and I, of course, would remain in the dark until after our honeymoon. I guess I could try and muster for you both the outrageous specifics of it all, recall the disputed play-by-play, but the story isn’t really mine to tell; anyway, I’d probably get more wrong than right. Still, what a thing to boil over on the eve of your only daughter’s wedding. What a thing to try and deny. I wonder if any of his anticipatory happiness—and it was prodigious; “father of the bride,” after all—even made it to his memory.
What’s the opposite of “all’s well that ends well?” Murphy’s Law?
As for my own—usually very dependable—memory, it let me down Thursday before last, while driving with Kristen to pick up Grammar from her folks. I was feeling nostalgic, speeding north along Euclid in the summer dusk, windows down, and I remarked to her that it was the twentieth anniversary of a particular group outing to the Family Fun Center, the scene of one of our handful of flirtations in the days leading up to our first kiss. She didn’t question the particulars and joined me in the syrupy memory of it all, the same warm breeze from two decades past on our faces.
The next day, however, looking through some old anniversary letters <quote-04>I’d saved to my laptop<quote-04>, I found a document from 2015 titled, “Our Week.” That year—low on funds—I’d written her a letter every day from the 30th to the 7th as if I were reliving our first flirtatious week from 2000 in real-time. “We’re going to the movies tonight—a group of us—to see The Patriot,” the very first one begins, “I didn’t see you today,” the next. Imagine my chagrin, though, upon arriving at the second of July and finding this: “The first glimpse I have of you is across an expanse of parking lot in front of the Edwards 22.”
I cherish the memory of this week more than any from my entire life, and here I was, twenty years removed or not, misremembering the brief timeline. The round of mini-golf, as it turns out, occurred not on the second—when we saw Me, Myself, and Irene with Koontz and Pat—but on the sixth. Reading back the details from that night, I realized that I hadn’t actually forgotten anything—all the right bells still were ringing—but I don’t know that I would’ve been able to conjure the exact specifics—that Tom drove us all that night in his dad’s Lincoln Mark VII, for instance—without the script in front of me. Could I have summoned the mood of that evening? Absolutely. <quote-05>The singular emotions of those first summer weeks are indelible in my mind<quote-05>, like the melodies from a favorite record. But I am <quote-06>relieved to have the lyrics<quote-06>, so to speak, secured in writing somewhere: on a thumb drive, in the cloud, inked boldly onto paper and gaffer-taped near the front of the stage.
A part of me wonders, though, if these cheat sheets permit, even ensure, the forgetfulness. <quote-07>Do I allow a textured sequence of moments to fade into emotional viscera once I commit it to the page?<quote-07>
Do either of you remember Dumbledore’s Pensieve from the Harry Potter books? In, like, the fourth book, the Hogwarts’ headmaster goes into his magical armoire or something and pulls out this old-timey wash basin filled with a shimmering liquid. He then places his elder wand just so and extracts from his mind a memory, which he then deposits into the Pensieve. Not only does the Pensieve contentedly store any memory Dumbledore is willing to commit to it, but the artifact allows him to basically return to the moment by dunking his face into the liquid. The catch, of course, is that the memory loses its vivid qualities in Dumbledore’s actual mind once it’s removed like so much seminal fluid. <quote-08>Is something like this happening when I consign a memory to words?<quote-08> Is this such a bad thing? Should I be doing more of this as I get older?
Several years ago, almost for the hell of it, for the challenge or something, I racked my brain to reconstruct all four years of my high school schedule, <quote-09>period by period<quote-09>, and put down the result of my efforts on a mint green sticky note. I have the note here in my office, affixed to the front of a plastic desk organizer, just a foot or so away on a nearby shelf. If I were to look at it—and I sometimes do, for fun—I could imagine the specific walks from classroom to classroom, other kids in my classes, where they sat in relation to me, where I loitered just after lunch ended. But without the core framework on the page before me, I fear that these little memories—these little thrills—would be lost forever.
I think I’d really miss these countless particulars if I could no longer visit them in my memory. Without them our lives would seem flimsy, the product of a mere handful of watershed moments, like a blur too eagerly interpreted, like <quote-10>a hell of wasted years<quote-10>. <quote-11>What a little heaven we can make of our memories!<quote-11>
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