Posted by: pendrops | December 22, 2006

ancient bones


“What is the past, but what we choose to remember?”
Amy Tan

I am watching Christmas 1988, an old Hendryx family archive video. And I’m realizing that I don’t remember anything about this Christmas except Santa bringing us Taffy, our family dog.

I don’t remember getting the stereo system I had begged for all year, complete with record player, two cassette tape decks and free-standing speakers. I don’t remember the stuffed panda bear that I carried with me everywhere in the days that followed Christmas. And I really don’t remember the stamp collecting kit.

As the flimsy VHS film rolls on, past Christmas and into January, I discover that there are countless moments I don’t remember. Sledding in the backyard, celebrating my brother Brad’s birthday, playing on the kitchen floor with our brown-eyed butterball pup.

That got me to thinking about memories. How in some strange way they’re a lie. Not a vicious lie, not a premeditated lie. But because we’re human, because we’re dust, we can’t help but fabricate how things were, how we wish they were. And it all gets mixed up in the reality of things.

We can’t possibly keep all our days airtight and unblemished the way museums keep ancient bones and old documents. So we recreate our past, and we recite it to ourselves in a different tone, and we do the best we can.

But this video I am watching, it is stark truth. The actual, factual, undeniable, indisputable truth. The way I pick on my brother – and I’ve always said we never fought. The way glances are shot when no one but the camera is looking, the way a tone of voice carries louder than the words. The way hurt, disease and tiredness reflect in the eyes of people I thought would live forever. These are the things I don’t remember.

Yes, memories are sweet, but they are a bit of an illusion, too; frail and tarnished by subjectivity and forgetfulness. Since this is the way of things, maybe our job is to make our present worthy of a memory. To make our today mean something.


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