September 30, 2012 § 2 Comments
I was talking with friends from college a few weeks ago about our summer in Smithfield, NC. We worked with farm workers. Some of us worked in day cares, some in health clinics. Jeff actually picked some tobacco. We slept together in big camp-like rooms, twenty or so single beds, piled in like puppies. Looking at photos of our round, idealistic faces, I didn’t really recognize my own. Was my face that fat? That young? That memory had been photo shopped in my brain. The real problem though, was that there were stories told that night that people would finish with “Remember that?” But I simply did not remember. I remembered the feelings, the friendship, a few key events, but not the details.
I know there are things everyone forgets from college, certainly things I do remember that I’d like to forget, but this is different. There are hunks of my own college years, my childhood, and hunks of my children’s childhoods that I have forgotten too. A friend of mine says that if you go through trauma, your memory skills can be damaged, not just repressed. Another friend, whose mother died when she was young, has few memories of her mother. When she visited me in North Carolina one summer, we went to the Eno River, and she (a city girl) would say things like, “I used to love the outdoors. I forgot that. I keep having an image of my mother swimming at the lake. I forgot that until now. She loved to swim. ” I didn’t really know how that was possible then, that depth of forgetting, but it makes sense now.
It’s not like dementia. I’m fine with the day to day, as much as anyone. It’s not even “mom-brain.” I remember all of my students’ names. I don’t put the milk in the cabinet like I did when my children were infants and I was sleep deprived. It is the evidence of my life that refuses to stay.
The more I need to connect to the past, the more I try to preserve it in stories or recall from my family’s pictures, the harder it is to remember. My sisters help some, of course, but they’ve forgotten things too, even Leigh Ann, who has an incredible memory. I remember the way it all felt, my life with my parents—that hovers around me all the time– but I want to recall what it looked like, sounded like; I want to remember who I am and who I came from, to store it safe forever in the deep folds of my brain.
September 15, 2012 § 5 Comments
Spanda, the yoga teacher says, is the pulsing of the universe, from the cellular level on out. You can feel it, she says, if you are sensitive enough. I am a skeptic, and at this point in my life, inflexible. People often say I “look like the type who would do yoga,” whatever that means. My mother also thought I “looked like the type who would smoke pot,” but neither is really true. I only appear calm on the outside; I am full on type A inside and have little patience for the illogical, the mystical. Except when it all makes sense.
This unbendable body is not who I was. I was a cheerleader, a ballerina of sorts. I could do the splits at one time in my life; now, I am the worst student in the room. My hips have been tightened by running, tensed by holding my body up for so long. I need several blocks and blankets and props, and I still can’t make my knee touch the floor like everyone else. Maybe if I push it down with my hand, I can force it to the ground? No, too conspicuous. This is who I am now.
My friend, Sheila, who brought me here, is a natural. I can hear her breath as her body bends and stretches, expanding and contracting with the spanda, which is the point. I have to remember not to hold my breath. I am glad the teacher reminds us.
Spanda is “the subtle creative pulse of the universe as it manifests into the dynamism of living form,” according to a yoga studio website I found. In my head, as I am trying to breathe and stretch, I am calling bullshit on the idea that the spanda can be felt in the air if you are sensitive enough, even though I want this to be true. I want to be connected to the tides; I want to believe that as my dad always reminded me, “this too shall pass.” Or as the yoga teacher says, life contracts and expands. Where’s my goddamn expansion, I think. Where’s my creative pulse? But I have heard this term before, haven’t I ? Spanda, no spondee, in poetry, which is, according to dictionary.com, “A metrical foot consisting of two long or stressed syllables. of libations, spondaic, from Greek spondeios, from spond, libation (from its use in songs performed at libations).
I find these examples from Tennyson, and it all makes sense:
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.
-from “In Memoriam”
My blood is creeping out to my fingertips and toes and something is loosening, but still, when we lie on our backs in Shavasana, the corpse pose, where you are supposed to fully relax–you know, the one most people go to yoga for, five minutes of delicious nap-like time–nerves do prick. My low back, as they call it, is in pain and I have to breathe and breathe, quietly, so as not to disturb my floor mates, until it finally relaxes, my muscles expand just a little, and I sink into the ground.
September 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
I have a thrift store habit. Like, the woman who works Fridays at the Salvation Army, Ms. Pam? She knows me. She practically has a petting zoo at her house. I know this because she shows me photos of her new llamas and zebras when I check out. ” I had to feed that one with a baby bottle,” she’ll say. Ms. Annette knows me too. She works during the week and always asks about my sister.
I can’t pay more than $3.39 for anything anymore. I’ve gotten caught up in the hunt and sudden discovery of something even better than I imagined. I tried to quit, but then, like a confirmed smoker, I decided to revel in my habit. If you go in for retail therapy, this has to be the least damaging kind. I am one of five girls, after all. I’ve never had many clothes that weren’t first worn by someone else. I don’t mind taking home someone’s cast offs, throwing them in the washer, and calling them mine.
A few weeks ago at the Army, as my sister and I call it, I ran into my thrift store sweetheart.
“So nice to see you, Stephanie,” Mr. Antonio says. “You’ve been on my mind.” “Have you found anything good today?” I ask. “Only you,” he says. Mr. Antonio is about eighty, with a thin, angular, caramel face. His eyes are bluish with cataracts, and they stare right through me. Mr. Antonio is still spry. He still drives himself to the Army. He wears a fedora, and I get the impression he always has. Usually, our greeting is the extent of our interaction. Sometimes, though, if he wants conversation, he will tell me I look Polish and ask about my ancestry. “I spent time in Europe,” he will say. “Really?” I will say, and listen to his story, even though I’ve heard it fifty times. He’ll say something to me in another language and smile. Mr. Antonio and I will wander aimlessly around the army then in different directions, looking for something, even though we’re never sure what it is until we find it.
I worry when he doesn’t show up for a few weeks, but he always returns. I am beginning to believe he is half magic, and unlike the rest of the world, will never disappear. I’m happy to be the Polish girl of his memory, and he doesn’t seem to mind playing my charming sweetheart, always looking out for me, keeping me on his mind. Each of us, for a few moments, finds what fits.