by Leah Senona
A good memory is a gift.
A good memory is more than just the ability to remember names and dates and appointments and to turn the stove off when the potatoes are finished boiling and to give the spare key to the neighbor so she can check on the cat while you are on vacation. It recalls the sensations of pleasurable experiences—the cold breeze skimming your skin as you stood under the full moon with your brother and danced like laughing trees in a strong Midwestern wind and the burn in your legs as you chased the family car the last quarter of a mile home after Sunday night church, dust hugging your teeth as you panted and laughed. It remembers the taste of purple and the tingle of carbonation sliding down your throat on a sweltering day when your usually grouchy dad, whose poverty provided a ready excuse for stinginess of all sorts, bought you a grape soda from the RC Cola machine outside the only grocery store in town.
A good memory conjures the ghost scent of the blacktopped driveway where you giggled uncontrollably at your sister’s attempts to keep you upright while you slipped across the asphalt on the new-to-you-but-not-really-new roller skates you never expected to get for your birthday. It very nearly allows you to feel again the slightly nauseating excitement preceding your first kiss in front of the Methodist church with the boy who broke your heart in high school, but damn if that kiss wasn’t amazing in spite of how things ended. A good memory brings all these moments and nearly a thousand more to mind, spotlighting colors and flavors and music and the feeling of that boy’s fingers in your hair as your skin rose to meet his touch with exquisite anticipatory goose bumps. But a good memory is more than this.
A good memory forgets, most days, how often as a child you were sad, how any happiness was often blighted by the waiting for joy to come crashing down under the weight of your mother’s persecution complex and your father’s unrighteous indignation. It diminishes the sting of recalling your thirteenth birthday spent visiting your sister in a mental hospital and hearing her curse at your parents with breath-stealing vitriol before you were sent to sit in a bleached hallway where you listened to a resident rap in the bathroom next to your chair and wondered where your sister learned all those bad words. It shushes the remembered sounds of mice scurrying in the dark, rustling the cellophane wrapper of a chocolate on the table next to you, as you failed to fall asleep on an ancient army cot in the living room and the rhythmic squeaking of the springs in your parents’ bed escaped the thin walls and added to the reasons you prayed for enough money to heat the whole house so you could sleep in your own upstairs bedroom without the risk of freezing to death.
A good memory waits until you are ensconced in the squashy embrace of the armchair in your first therapist’s office before recalling the bewildered howls of a cousin viciously spanked for spilling nail polish on the floor and lying about it. Only he didn’t lie. You stained the carpet then lied to avoid being isolated from the Christmas Eve festivities and forced to sit alone in a room in the gathering dark, afraid to turn on a light for fear of additional punishment in the form of no presents the following day. It tucks away for a later day, a wiser day, the remembrances of all the sins you committed against yourself and others to survive childhood and adolescence, proffering tidbits of recollections slowly as you gain the strength to face the past haunting your present.
A good memory protects you from further harm by reminding you of your terror when a man claiming he just loved you so much choked you as you fought to rise from the floor, gasping for air. It presses into your mind the weight of him on your chest as he pinned you down and bruised your wrists with his furious grip while you cried and sobbed and shook and pleaded with him to release you. It echoes the sounds of him loading a gun in the next room over and the rush of blood through the arteries in your ears as you dashed through his living room to the front door and outside, your only thought to ensure there would be witnesses to him shooting you so maybe someone would call an ambulance or the police and try to save you or at least keep you company as you died. A good memory refuses to let it all slip from your mind because he will call and cry and text and beg and leave love notes and poor-me poems on your car and he will lie and say he loves you and he’s changed and he’s sorry. But your good memory will present before you the evidence against him and you won’t believe him and you’ll finally have the courage to stay away for keeps this time, and one day you’ll even forget his name for a second or two.
A good memory is a gift.
Leah Senona is a recovering procrastinator residing in Greer, SC, with her husband, two daughters, two cats, one dog, one guinea pig, and ten chickens. Her unruly imagination and penchant for eavesdropping, which caused her so much trouble in childhood, are now being put to good use in her life as a writer. When she is not writing or reading, she can often be found searching for British TV shows on Netflix, meandering through her neighborhood, or engaging in all sorts of secret-sharing with friends and soon-to-be-friends over coffee or beer.
Wow! What a beautiful piece you’ve written. Thank you.