I don’t know how my daughter’s memory works. She doesn’t remember much about the winter she was seven, which experience has been scarred into my soul (“How can you not remember that!” is how it feels to me). She doesn’t remember the day camp teacher who saw her every day of every summer for four years, until she was eleven. She doesn’t remember what she got for her birthday or even, sometimes, when her birthday is.
Do you remember, I’ll ask, urgent, wanting to find some common ground, some continuity between one day and the next, and she’ll screw up her face and say yeah in a way that means she doesn’t.
She tries to hold onto the memories. She has never forgotten that she loved our dogs, but they have been gone many years now. So she has stuffed animals that look like them and old creased photos I took when everyone was a lot younger than they are now, and she talks about them all the time so that she won’t forget.
She bumps into me when we walk across the parking lot, and says, “I’m just like Dakota, aren’t I, Mom?” Because Dakota used to do that to me on our long walks, nudging my thigh, her tail curled over her back, briskly trotting down the street.
“You’re just like Dakota, darlin’,” I tell her, and kiss the top of her head.
For me the past is an uncomfortable companion breathing too close to my ear. Every error of judgment I ever made, every wrong turn I ever took, is a stone weighing down my soul, vivid and unforgettable. Nothing like the gossamer threads of the past that my daughter clutches at. I remember too much, most of it inconsequential, but it seemed important at the time, like the things you put in a time capsule. Thirty years later, when you crack it open, you marvel that you ever thought it was worth saving.
To me, the past is a burden, but I see Jessica on the couch, clutching the old photographs of her dogs, her stuffed animals ranged on either side of her, trying hard to remember, and I see it is also a gift. Some things are worth remembering: Dakota the dog, and the day my daughter was born, and the sound of my agent’s voice on the phone when she said, Your book is going to auction.
But I am coming to understand that the loss of all those yesterdays is its own kind of gift. I sometimes think this may be the secret of Jessica’s happiness: to be here now, present, eternally and always, with unremembered yesterdays and no promise of tomorrow.