I’m singing along with a song on the radio as I am inclined to do no matter how much Jessica asks me not to.
“That is a song about the moon,” she says suddenly.
She has always had a particular fascination with the moon. I don’t know why. It has always been like an old friend to her. From the first time she lifted her face to see it, she has been constantly on the lookout for it. If we’re out at night, drinking tea and Diet Coke on the patio, or driving somewhere in the car, she will scan the sky until she finds it, and then she’ll point it out.
“There is the moon,” she will say with satisfaction and relax back into her seat. She doesn’t like it when I say, “Oh, there’s the moon.” It’s her moon, I think, so I have learned to keep my mouth shut and let her point it out.
“What is a harvest moon?” she asks.
That is in the song.
“A harvest moon is a full moon that happens in the fall. The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox.”
I expect her to ask me what the autumnal equinox is but she says instead, “There is another song about moons that you like.”
I nod. “There’s a Full Moon Over Tulsa.” I start to sing that but she stops me before I get too far along.
“You know all the words to all the songs,” she says, her tone implying You don’t have to prove it.
“Not all the songs.”
She tilts her head. “What is the moon now?”
“It’s a three-quarters moon.”
“So it will be full soon.”
“Yes. It’s waxing now.”
“When will it be full?”
“This weekend. Saturday,” I say. “It’ll rise at sunset.”
“How do you know?”
“Full moons always do.”
“How do you know?” she persists.
“I don’t know. My brain accumulates random facts.” My brain doesn’t know how to deal with people, or make loads of money, or build bridges, but it knows more pointless facts than I can count. The details of how Dunkirk fell, the name of Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, every word of “To His Coy Mistress,” and the date of the Great Vowel Shift. Nothing that will ever get me a job or a lover or even polite applause.
“You know everything,” she says with her sly smile, looking at me out of the corner of her eye. She asks How do you know that? at least ten times a day, and sometimes I just respond Because I know everything. Which she has never believed but it amuses her.
“Fortunately,” I say.
“What does waxing mean?”
“It means the moon is getting fuller. Waning means it is getting less full.”
We have had these conversations for nearly all the years of her life, and I have explained these facts a thousand times, and tonight it strikes me, for the first time, that she is not asking, How do you know? but rather How do you remember? And suddenly the question takes on a poignant sadness that it never did before. Because she doesn’t remember most things, not with any reliability, not with any certainty. She is looking for the key, perhaps, that will stop the memories from leaking out, so that she can contain them, hold on to them, but they slip through her fingers all the time, constantly. Everything disappears on her and she cannot stop the theft. She would like her memory to be less faulty and unreliable, but no one has ever been able to help her.
“We will look for the moon tomorrow,” she says.
It is the only way she can remember anything, by doing it all the time, day after day, without fail. It is exhausting.
“Yes, we will,” I say.
“Don’t forget,” she says.
“I won’t forget,” I promise.
“You never do,” she says.