Have you ever had the crazy feeling that you’ve remembered something that you haven’t thought of since… well, since the very day you first experienced it? Not the run of the mill stuff, the university paths you traversed, the check-out desk at your town library, the way you walked to your primary school every day, and not the color of your first boyfriend’s head of hair. Not what you wore on your wedding day, or your cubicle at your programming job. Certainly not the off-ramp at Roosevelt Road. No, none of those things.
No, I mean remembering something that happened years and years and years ago, that has truly not crossed your mind since. Something that you’ve only remembered now, just this very day, this exact moment, in fact, because you were reading something entirely unusual for you -- perhaps Chekov’s short stories in a small bound volume -- or Isaac Babel’s description of studying at home with his grandmother in Odessa -- and you let your eyes wander away from your book for a moment, as you remember your own grandmother and her house, and the dark wood furniture in her living room, the cart with her African violets standing at the dining room window, the claret-colored and scratchy bouclé brocade of the single settee with its heavy silken twisted fringe, and the patterned carpet on the stairs that went up.
And upstairs, the room where you’d had to nap in the afternoon as a really young child, with books ranged everywhere, on every surface and every shelf. The patterned wallpaper, its endless repetitious dots soothing you, and the slanting few rays of sunshine sneaking between window sill and the roof of the next house over. A calm somnolence overtaking you after you’d read in quick succession several issues of Fate magazine, with its séances and banshees and visitors from the dark beyond. The sheer curtains hanging dead still in the heat of the late summer afternoon.
It’s a strange and wrenching feeling. Deep inside, you remember, and you feel. Your gut twists. My God! That couch! I remember it! My grandfather, sitting downstairs in his chair, wearing his glasses after cataract surgery, like black binoculars over his eyes, and all so he could watch Laurence Welk on Saturday evenings at six. “Is that a colored gal singing?,” as Aretha, or Dionne Warwick, or someone belted something out on TV. “Yes, Grandpa, it is,“ I answered, already knowing enough to be embarrassed at age 10. Clearly, the glasses weren’t a complete success.
Yet, how weirdly unsettling. You haven’t thought about this since the very day it happened, maybe 41 years ago or so. What the hell?
It’s reading that does it. You get started on one track, reading the stories of this brilliant and eccentric Russian Jew, Isaac Babel, whose life was brutally cut short in 1940, his work only translated quite recently. It’s as if a lovely window has briefly opened into the past, and you’re transported through it, remembering your own history, nothing like that of people in Odessa, but unique and odd and beautiful to you all the same.
And then, that sudden self-awareness: is it possible that I’m remembering this, for the first time, 41 years after it happened? Where’s that memory been all these years? And is it possible, is it really possible, that I’ve been alive and doing things every single damn day since? Forty-one years of doing stuff, every day and every minute, since this moment I’m remembering for the very first time right now?
What is the stuff of life? What are we? Where have the years gone?
And how in the hell can time just go and go and go? My life is just careening past me.