CRASHING THE MEMORY HOUSE (repost)
This was originally posted on the old site but I like it so I'm reposting it here. The original date was August 25 2012. Enjoy- GT
When I saw the [RED ROOM] request for a blog about The Worst Thing You Ever Lost, I went back into the deep recesses trying to find something significant.
It was not the easy task I had imagined. My mind is like that mythical Smithsonian mixed with the New York Public Library mixed with a junkyard.
There's stuff everywhere, some organized and clearly labeled, some in the wrong box, in the wrong shape and, very often, randomly stuck to something from another time and place.
Piles on stacks on mountains.
Messy. It's a wonder any thoughts manage to navigate the place, much less the odd story or script.
Still, once begun is better done as the saying I just made up goes. I was in already. It seemed stupid to leave without some version of the trophy.
I wiped the dust from my Victorian era giggles, pull the thick leather work gloves up to my wrists, tied them off and started sifting. I wish I'd remembered to wear the dust filter but what can you do?
The first thing I found that was significant loss, you know: something other than a bag of marbles left on a park bench or a jacket at a theatre, was a crate marked "Formula One."
Now, in my mind, in my memory, this thing is the size of a real car. You can get in, you can drive it (if you can clear enough space which you can't because of the mess but, y'know, in principle.). In truth it was a toy. Sometime just before or just after my parents' divorce (these things get murky when the decades stack up) I was presented with an authentic replica of a Formula One race car. This was no matchbox.
This thing had every gear, every piston, every decal every strip of actual leather that the original possessed. The only thing truly "fake" about it was the engine which, of course, wouldn't burn petrol or anything else.
I loved that thing the way only a six or seven year old can, playing with it constantly, picturing myself behind the wheel, screaming past Speed Racer and some unnamed Frenchman on raceways of infinite impossible complexity. Always winning.
Always after insane obstacles had been narrowly overcome.
I left it, I think, at the home of one of my playmates who, subsequently somehow was unable to locate it. Ever.
Neat. I hadn't thought of the thing in years and yet, in the Memory House it still sits, ready for my key and my inclination to drive. File that away for the next boring Sunday.
The next thing I found was a box of comic books, mostly from the late 1960s and into the 70s, a bequest from my father who, during one of his many travel-related adventures, managed to lose not only the box but the letters I got back from NASA explaining why there were no black astronauts at the time and another from John Romita Sr. telling me to keep up the good work and to practice, practice, practice, if I meant to become a comic book illustrator.
The letters are around here somewhere but I don't need to dig them out. They aren't really lost once you read them. And most of the comics have been restocked since then so we can score that a wash. No hard feelings, Pop. Life goes on.
I rifled through a bunch of stuff, some of it glittery and strange, some of it quite mundane. My first wedding ring is in here. I'm crap with jewelry. I left it on a restaurant table and, as it was raw silver and carved with intricate celtic symbols (something my wife and I both love).
When i scrambled back at lawbreaking speed to retrieve the thing it was, of course, gone into some lucky person's pocket. There's also the first "really good" short story I ever wrote, left on a Washington DC Metrobus as I transferred between my morning school (one side of the city) and the post-lunch classes (the other side).
It was a story about a sparrow and an otter at the city Zoo in winter typed and stuffed into a manilla envelope for easy carrying and, apparently, easy loss. It stings me to this day that I was stupid enough to let that thing disappear.
I'd kill to have it back. I'm not kidding.
I had to take a moment after that one. I sat down on my Plan for a Personal Flying Harness and took it. The rest of the morning was heavy lifting, shifting of old OMNI magazine articles, a copy of the RIVERSIDE SHAKESPEARE I'd won from the Folger Theatre for doing scenes from Hamlet in competition, some old-school GI JOES and then I was pretty near the center of the place.
I was stuck in that workman's crouch; you know the one: hands on knees, head a bit bowed, short huffy breaths as you consider your next move. Sweaty, suffering from acute melancholy and nostalgia (both fatal if left untreated) and scanning around absently for something that would make the trip worthwhile. It was then I saw it.
Well. Not so much "it" as "her." There was a young girl standing almost dead center of the place
She was no older than sixteen, long dark hair spilling in waves over her shoulders, skin the color of dark amber. She wore a very modest school uniform- grey and white and green- not one of your anime fetish things so get your mind out of the gutter.
Okay. I know what you're thinking. You think she was my first, right? Well, yes and no. When I met her I was living in Africa with my father and my idiot brother. I attended a English style "prep" school (again, not what you think. It was just a school where we had to wear uniforms and lessons were taught from the British POV rather than the more acceptable American one (that's a joke, son)). She was three years older than me and she was completely, absolutely, impossibly perfect in every single way.
Her mother taught french at the school. Her boyfriend was some scottish superhero named Ian who played soccer and rugby and was mostly elsewhere doing that. I hated him the way a mongoose hates a king cobra. In my genes.
She hit me like a thousand kilograms of bricks. She inspired poems. She inspired stupid classroom antics so i'd get sent out of mine and get to walk by hers on my way to a punishment that was ABSOLUTELY worth it.
She inspired me to take ballet after school so I could be in it with her (leading, paradoxically, to my father meeting his second wife but that's another story). We became the sort of friends that an older girl can be with a boy who is so obviously smitten.
She tolerated me. I made her laugh. I mocked her idiot boyfriend for not being there when he wasn't and for being a jerk when he was. Eventually he did the thing all idiot boyfriends do with awesome perfect girls: he broke up with her.
And i was there. We became what I'd always wanted us to be. When i'm talking to guys she was my first real kiss. My first "second base." Guys, for the most part, are idiots. When I'm talking to women, I tell it straight.
She was my first. The first person other than my parents who completely owned my heart. You remember what that's like. I don't have to spell it out. Words make it maudlin. You know.
But the nature of expats working in foreign lands means, eventually, they have to return home and so we did. Her to the Seychelles and me to DC. We wrote. Lockets and bracelets were exchanged. It was all very earnest and heartbreaking. Lots of teary promises.
Then I did the other thing that idiot boyfriends do with awesome perfect girlfriends. I misunderstood her.
In the last letter I got from her she finished with a sad paragraph about how awful it was that we would not see each other again for at least a couple years ( I had to get out of high school first, right?) but she began with "Anyway, forget about these stupid letters..."
I never got past that line. The whole preceding meat of the letter was so sad and defeated and filled with what I now know is teenaged angst but which, at the time, felt like tragedy, that that one sentence destroyed me. I couldn't read more. She was, I thought, saying good-bye.
It broke me. Right through. A crack as big as this. I was a wreck for a good year before I really got over it. Then I did get on with life. I had other firsts.
And then, years later, I was going through some old boxes and I came across the letter. I won't lie and say there wasn't a twinge. There was. How could there not be?
I read it, straight to the end this time and I realized that, had I gone on before, had I NOT been such and angsty,hyper dramatic teenaged IDIOT, I would have realized that the last few sentences of that letter where an apology for being so bleak and a reaffirmation of our deep perfect connection.
I wouldn't have tossed that letter into a bin. I would have written back.
Sure it was impossible. Sure we would have grown apart and found young men and women to pair off with that were closer to home. That's what happened anyway. It was always what would have happened. It's what happens.
But I would have written back. Instead all she got was silence. I know how that hurt her because I felt the same even though it was my own stupid fault. I would have written back.
If you can replace something, you didn't really lose it. That's my feeling anyway. If you can't, it's really and truly lost.
So that was and remains the biggest. A whole human being. An entire place and time. You can't get things like that back. You can't refill your childhood. Once it's spent, it's gone.
I've got my own awesome perfect girl now. married. locked in. she definitely owns my heart.
But Priscilla will always be there, right near the center of my Memory House, smiling her Da Vinci smile.
copyright © 2011 geoffrey thorne, all rights reserved