La, la, la, la, take me Home

Work calls me out to a part of the city that I haven’t needed to go out to before. Not being up on the traffic patterns out here, I ended up being almost an hour early. No problem: I just put Dutch Bros. Coffee in my GPS. There’s one 2 minutes down the road.  It’s in the parking lot of a small, decrepit shopping center. And, I say decrepit because,  except for a Dollar store in the corner, all the other shops are empty, abandoned.  So it’s when I’m sitting in the drive-thru line staring at a rather distinctive-also decrepit -building across the street, that it hits me. I’ve been here before.

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This is my childhood neighborhood.  I didn’t even realize I was here. My house, was literally a few doors down from that funky brick and yellow building. There used to be some kind of shop in that building -I don’t even remember what, but for advertising they had a bigger than life gorilla manikin that would hold up different sale signs. One if the cheesy man-in-a-suit gorillas. My cousin, who lived next door, and I found it thrillingly scary, and would look forward to seeing it and screaming every time we walked down to the grocery store with our moms.
The building is abandoned now, and it looks ready to fall down. They will rip it down soon,  I am sure. It will be an empty lot for a while, because there is no growth in this neighborhood.  Then they will build a cellphone franchise there.  I want to save it, the way I want to save so many old buildings. But especially this one, because it is the gorilla store from my childhood.
So this parking lot I’m sitting in here,  this is the parking lot of the last Keino’s store to stay open in the Portland area. I spent hours here, with my parents, my grand parents, my aunts and cousins. And I didn’t recognize it. Just yesterday, I was trying to explain to my daughter about the ice cream sandwich Money bars that Gramma used to get for us here.  I find something comforting in the idea that I’ve just purchased my coffee in their parking lot. My last purchase from Kieno’s.  I miss Kieno’s. It’s one of those things that isn’t there any more -isn’t just a given, fact of life, for everyone any more. Things like that always make me sad.
Behind me, is the empty laundry mat where we used to go with my mom or aunt or Gramma to wash our clothes. Gramma had an old wringer washer, I kid you not, but in the winter she would wash her clothes at home and then take them here to use the dryers, because it was too rainy to dry them out on the Iines. This empty laundry mat holds a much less delicious terror for me than the fake gorilla. Once, my aunt Shirley put me and my cousin into one of the big wall dryers there. She thought it would be fun for us -like a carnival ride on the cheap. My cousin went trustingly, but fortunately,  I was hit by a sudden way of preschooler claustrophobia.  I screamed and kicked at the glass so much that my aunt got worried I would break it, and stopped the dryer to chastise me. This delayed things long enough for my mom to arrive from shopping next door, and persevere over aunt Shirley’s drug-addled mind. A few years later my aunt Marilyn ODed.  It was back in the day when people were still polite about that kind of thing so every one said she died of a heart attack.
Already, irrationally, I don’t want to leave the neighborhood. I want to find my small family a little house here. Rent is certainly cheaper here. I want to transfer to the office I’m visiting today, make a difference in the first place I ever belonged.
But I’ve only ever found a reason to come back here once before today, since my family packed up and left when I was a kid. One day, about 5 years ago, I woke up standing there on the street corner by that brick and yellow building. As in, I’d had a huge dissociative episode. I had hours missing. I didn’t know where I’d been or how I’d gotten here. Heck, I was in a whole other state than where I started. It took me a while longer to wander around and figure out where I was. I don’t know how many times I actually walked back and forth in front of my old house before I recognized it. It was almost two hours later when I finally located my car, parked blocks away by the park we used to go to. I’d figured out where I was, but that was in my pre-GPS days, so I finally gave in and called the one person who would be able to tell me how to get home from there: mom. And that’s when mom told me what day it was. It was the only time I forgot the anniversary of my dad’s death.

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Alabama, Arkansas, I do love my Ma & Pa
Not the way that I do love you

Holy Moley, Me-oh-My, you’re the apple of my eye
Girl, I’ve never loved one like you

Man, oh man, you’re my best friend,
I scream it to the nothingness
There ain’t nothin’ that I need

Well, hot & heavy, pumpkin pie,
chocolate candy, Jesus Christ
There ain’t nothin’ please me more than you

Ahh, Home
Let me come Home
Home is wherever I’m with you

La la la la, take me Home
Mama, I’m coming Home

I’ll follow you into the park,
through the jungle, through the dark
Girl, I’ve never loved one like you

Moats & boats & waterfalls,
alley ways & pay phone calls
I’ve been everywhere with you

That’s true

We laugh until we think we’ll die,
barefoot on a summer night
Never could be sweeter than with you.

And in the streets we’re running free,
like i’s only you and me
Geez, you’re somethin’ to see.

Ahh, Home
Let me come Home
Home is wherever I’m with you

La la la la, take me Home
Mama, I’m coming Home

Jade?

Alexander?

Do you remember that day you fell out of my window?

I sure do, you came jumping out after me.

Well, you fell on the concrete
and nearly broke your ass
and you were bleeding all over the place
and I rushed you off to the hospital.
Do you remember that?

Yes, I do.

Well, there’s something
I never told you about that night.

What didn’t you tell me?

While you were sitting in the backseat
smoking a cigarette you thought
was going to be your last,
I was falling deep, deeply in love with you
and I never told you ’til just now.

Ahh, Home
Let me come Home
Home is whenever I’m with you
Ahh, Home
Let me come Home
Home is when I’m alone with you

Home
Let me come Home
Home is wherever I’m with you

Ahh, Home
Yes, I am Home
Home is when I’m alone with you.

Alabama, Arkansas, 
I do love my Ma & Pa
Moats & Boats & Waterfalls, 
Alleyways & Pay phone Calls. 

Home is when I’m alone with you.
Home is when I’m alone with you.
-Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

This is the song we were going to play at our wedding, while I walked down the aisle. You can love someone real hard in the hospital. So many times in different hospitals.

Forever.

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Sometimes I contemplate my memories and I feel terrified. Not because of their content: it’s the good memories that make me feel this way.

Someone who had some authority in the matter once told me that NO MEMORY is genuine. That is, the very first time we remember an event, even split seconds after it happened, the memory is flawed. It’s not what really happened, but a recreation. It’s our brain massing together some chemicals to retell a story the best we can recall. We are fooling ourselves if we think of our memories as an exact recording of events–a movie printed on the filmstrip of our mind. Physically, that’s what a memory is–a bunch of chemicals, which is the first place things can go wrong, if that brain recipe isn’t just right–whipped together in your skull mixing bowl to recreate what you think happened. Even things you think are perfectly factual: a smell that you feel went along strongly with the memory, isn’t going to be remembered the same way, or at all, by someone who was standing right there next to you as the event unfolded. I’m reminded of the cilantro conundrum, where they finally proved that people that loved cilantro and people who hated cilantro REALLY WERE actually tasting cilantro in a wholly different way from one another.

But the memories I’m worried about–the issue isn’t that someone else might be remembering them differently–although I’m sure you can see where that aspect can lead to miles of discussion. The problem for me is realizing that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get a filmstrip of what’s happening. Here is one of those memories that inspire such terror in me, something that just happened:

My little daughter comes into the bedroom. I’ve had a long week–my first week at a new job, and I’m still reeling from the loss of the wedding and my new unsure ground with her dad. He’s not here of course. We don’t know where he is. That’s typical. But I’m relaxed. I’m laying on the bed, the patio door is open and its grown dark, the cat is petting himself on my outstretched hand as I just doze. Suddenly that little bundle of sweetness bounces in and perched on the bed near my head. I can just see her face in the fading blue light. Her eyes are glimmering and in that smile shape. Yes, she’s smiling. There are the dimples. “I want more juice bottle.”

“Okaay…”

Just the slightest shadow passes over her smile because I am slow to answer and haven’t jumped up to get her juice. Did I understand her and what she wanted? Is she going to have to wait a -to her toddler mind–unbearable long time for me to shake off my sleepiness and get up to get her more juice? I am quick to reassure her:

“I’m going to get you more juice. But…you’ll have to pay me first.”

The shadow leaves, and the smile actually grows bigger. Oh! This is a game. The slightest of thoughtful crinkles touches her eyes and she starts to turn to leave. Oh goodness, she actually has something in mind! Is she heading for her piggy bank? Or has she thought of something incredible and funny and unexpected? Part of me wants to find out, but part of me really wants what I originally intended, not just for me, but for the effect it will have on her. So I let her off the hook.

“I’ll need your best kiss.”

What do you know, it possible for that smile to get bigger. That look on her face is just what I was hoping for: she is surprised and bemused and very happy because I’ve asked for something she knows she good at and she can deliver. She actually winds up. Sits back and straightens up and takes a big healthy breath in, and then dives in and gives me the sweetest baby kiss on my right cheek. It’s not even too slobbery. And I try so hard to freeze that moment in mind.

Even as I’m getting up and walking into the kitchen, as I’m getting the juice, as I’m responding to her chatter with, I admit it, half a mind, I am trying to cement that one moment in my mind. The sweet squeak and timber of her voice. The sound of her breath. The way that kiss felt–carrying with it that incredible gentle softness of touch that only babies and very small children have. I want it recorded like a move, but I’m already realizing it’s hopeless. I try to recall other details from the environment. The way the mattress felt, the feel of the cool air and the night sounds from outside the patio, the cat’s purr. Was the cat purring? Oh God, see? Already I’m not sure. And you’re supposed to remember these kind of details, to help you recall the important parts of the memory. Recall, not play back. Redo. Recreate. It is slipping away from, becoming intangible, sliding away down the drain of my mind to get lost in some great homogenous river.

I try to think back to similar moments with my older kids. From when they were little like this one. I start to reassemble memories, but there’s nothing there I can just play back. I can hear each one of their little voices. Each one’s was different and sweet. The oldest–even when he was small, he always sounded a little worried, earnest. Tiny Tim’s really was the tiniest, like you would imagine belonging to a little cartoon mouse. And my older daughter, she has this one constant note in her voice, like her own specially minted bell, that is always ringing the way a tuning fork would, behind every sound she makes. It’s there in her adult voice still, and it was already there in her little voice. I can imagine the things they said. Every morning, while I was pregnant with his sister, Tiny Tim would come in at the break of dawn and curl up with me and whisper, “I love you mom.” and then he would put his mouth up against my belly and whisper, “I love you, little sister.” I KNOW this happened. But even as I “remember” it, I realize I am just recreating it. I don’t actually remember–have printed on mindfilm, any of the moments where this happened. As I turn it around and around in my head, I can come up with a setting. Early in the morning–I need the bedroom, then. Where did we live at the time? Ah, right. That bedroom. Once I have that, I can even supply the most likely bedspread for the time. Oh, that awful lamp. That was there too. But the more I build the picture, the more I despair. Because that’s all I’m doing: reassembling the pieces, painting a collage of what logically must have all gone together–and voila! My brain spits out a “memory” at the end. But it’s not. It’s not real. Even if I put it all back together just right, if I somehow managed to hold all the minute pieces all these years and somehow miraculously stuck them all back together exactly right–it’s not the memory from 17 years ago. I made it brand new, just now.

And what kills me, what really kills me, is that I know that I did the same thing back then, that I just did right now: I thought, “I want to remember this moment forever.”