I forget you don’t know me.
You see, if you knew me you might know that I love loud clothes and found art and street food. You might know that I’m the pessimist of the family, that no matter how old I get my mom still calls me “baby,” and that rearranging furniture is not a chore, but a PRIVILEGE for me. You might remember me from grade school, the girl with ruffly underwear paired with stretch pants or from college, the one who left the library only when it locked its doors. You might know that I like to eat alone and that my children are wild. But, you don’t know me. You probably never will.
In George Clare’s memoir, “The Last Waltz in Vienna,” he describes the ideas that converged in the Germanic regions between the World Wars. And he describes his family’s fate as a result of those ideas. But, most of all, he talks about his own sometimes boyish interpretation of the events that carved the destiny of the Jews in Europe and that indeed changed the future of the world.
Many years after WWII, he returned to Vienna; to the apartment where he grew up. He says, “And I had to accept that my parents had lived in two flats: the flat the eyes of the boy had seen and recorded, and the flat as it really was, the one the eyes of the man were looking at.”
After my husband’s grandfather fell and had to be hospitalized, I stayed with grandma before the decision was made to have her care taken over by professionals. She has Alzheimer’s Disease and the days when her incredible sense of humor could hide her inner turmoil had ended. Up until this point, Grandpa had met every wish and comforted her every fear. Now the rest of us had to learn to calm a woman whose nerves were raw and whose mind did not have the capacity to right itself.
Sometimes, Grandma and I talked about the past, sometimes we talked about Grandpa, but most of the time was spent fighting the figurative fires created in her imagination. We looked out the window together to make sure there was nobody coming to get us. We checked the locks. We talked about “those people” and “that woman” and waited for their approach. In order to calm her down, I had to understand her irrationality and then counter it with something that would make sense not to me, but to her. It was terrifying. Not because I really thought someone was coming to get us, but because I knew that she did. Her world was confused, it was irrational, and to her, it was very real.
This experience has made me wonder about memory. I wonder what parts of our brain record what “really” happens and what parts record what we wish would have happened or what we fear might have happened?
I wonder what lens I look through to see the reality of my life? What lens will I look through when I’m old, when I’m dead, when I’m resurrected, when I’m home. What thoughts taint my own reality? And once I find out, should I wish for a cure? For some reason, that feels wrong. Instead, maybe I’ll simply write it all down, help someone understand how I view the world. Maybe if I do, you’ll know me then. And we can sit and talk, about you.