Saturday, October 20, 2012

There and Back Again (Memory Lane)

Last week I was in Seattle and environs, visiting my family. Originally, I was going to take care of my mother after an operation. But the operation was postponed after the tickets were bought, and so I went anyway. Truth be told, I was ready for a little break from life in Oaxaca. Not that there are any major problems; on the contrary, things here are going better than I ever dared hope. Even so, I missed my family and friends, and I just wanted to be in a place where everything was "normal" for a little while.

A wonderful little break it was, too. Autumn is my favorite time of year in Washington, at least during those few precious weeks when the days are sunny and the evenings are crisp, and the leaves are bright against the sky and crunchy underfoot. The second week in October was just such a week, luckily.

In addition to spending time with my daughter,  mom, and sister, my girlfriend Sarah made a special trip up from Portland just to see me. We stayed in my mom's centrally located condo and walked all over town. I haven't lived in Seattle for years, and not downtown for many MANY years, but my entire youth was spent there, and everywhere we went I was overcome with memories. It was actually almost scary - the memories were coming up so thick and fast they were almost choking me.

On Capitol Hill we walked past Seattle Central Community College and Seattle University, where I jointly went to college. We stopped and ate in a couple of my old favorite restaurants, and passed by coffee shops where I wrote many a paper. For the most part, my Capitol Hill memories are good ones, from a time when I was young, strong, independent and happy, engaged in academia and writing a lot of good poems.

We walked down the hill to the Pike Place Market, and deeper into my past. My first legitimate job was at Market Spice, and I spent thousands of hours in the market, both working and getting into trouble. Before I was working, as a young teenager, I used to catch the ferry over from Bainbridge Island, climb the old steps, and hang out in the market listening to buskers and trying to get someone to buy me coffee or lunch. I was an incredibly lonely child at thirteen and fourteen, willing to go to just about any lengths to have a conversation with somebody. It was also a time when I was hungry, and passing the produce stalls I vividly remembered spending a dollar on an apple and a handful of nuts.

The train station is in Pioneer Square, the oldest part of the city and the place I spent the most difficult years of my life. I've visited many times since I left for good, and never felt the press of memories like I did this time. These are memories that I would just as soon stay put, but nothing doing. For more than two years, I lived with my father in a room in the Pioneer Square Hotel, which was then a skid-row flophouse for people one step away from the streets, either going up or coming down. Mostly the latter. Walking past, I remembered the fire. I remembered the stabbing. I remembered the rapes.

I'm certainly not making this sound like a good trip, but it was. It was very good for me to have these memories. None of it felt traumatic; it was all too long ago. My biggest concern was not boring my friend Sarah to death by blurting out all these private visions. "And this is where... oh my God, and this is where...."

Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a shocking memory. I am notorious for remembering nobody until I have met them six or eight times. Although I absorb anything I read from a book without difficulty, I can't remember anything about what I actually do. My life is pretty much a clean white sheet until the age of eight or nine, and my husband is constantly insulted that I can't remember details of our courtship or married life. My memory is so bad that is pretty much has to be a self-inflicted condition, my history of pot-smoking notwithstanding.

As a matter of fact, the idea of my trying to write a memoir is ludicrous. I recently read that Mick Jagger was once offered a large sum of money for his ghost-written memoir, but the deal fell through when it was discovered he could remember almost nothing about his own life. I laughed out loud. That could be me. It was, therefore, a bizarre and disorienting experience to get a kind of bum's rush through the disused passages of my own mind. If pressed, I could have given a narrative of those years, even one that included many of the details... but that would be a dispassionate recitation of events that might have happened to anyone. Very different to feel the memories as living experiences. I'm not entirely sure what to think about it. I guess I should write it all down before the curtain of amnesia falls again in

In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit home, and returned to Oaxaca refreshed and eager to see my family. The weather turned while I was gone and the rainy season is over. It's been quite hot and sunny lately. We have no major plans or obligations for the next month, and it may be a good time to take a trip. Out to the coast, say. I'd love to get a little snorkeling in.


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