|Chris, me, Norma Jean, and two masked munchkins|
The main thing is that I have no recollection of that time in my life. And where were we going? I would have thought maybe it was Halloween night, but Chris is not in costume, so I suspect Norma Jean and I were going somewhere and she brought the kids over to show me the masks she created. They are really adorable, aren't they? It's easy to tell which one is Allison, who was blond and cute. Peter is of course wearing a mohawk, or are those feathers? Chris didn't have anything nearly as nice as these, and his costume was probably purchased in the store.
What this picture reminds me is that over the years of my life, I've been many different versions of myself. I know there are some people who are raised and live their whole lives in one place, or two, and there is a direct trajectory between who they are today and who they were before. My turbulent past doesn't allow me to have any such a thing.
But the one thing that is constant in almost every one of those lives is my sister Norma Jean. Just this past Saturday we spent two hours visiting on a video chat. There was a period of about ten years in the middle of my life when I didn't have much to do with my birth family, including her, as I was a wandering hippie. When Chris was around twelve, he went to live with his father, and I began a period of travel and exploration. There are major landmarks that I can use to tell something about a particular time, but often my memories overlap and become distorted.
I'm curious about that young woman in the picture. What were her priorities at that time? I remember that I was married to my second husband (he probably took the picture) and we lived in Michigan. Chris' father came to get him every other weekend and for longer periods during the summer and holidays. I well remember how difficult that was for me at first. Somewhere I have a picture of Chris getting on the bus to attend the first day of kindergarten, and I remember crying because he was growing up so fast. He had to deal with getting on the bus alone, as well as his mother's tears. These days I see parents dropping their kids off at school and picking them up afterwards, but it was different then.
When Norma Jean and I recall some of our past, it amazes me that our memories of the same event can be totally, completely different. Of course, at the time that picture was taken, we were married and living our separate lives and only saw each other occasionally. But I don't really remember much from those days fifty years ago. Why would I? And much of what I do remember is not actually accurate. Memory is a funny animal: I've read that some theories believe that every time we recall a memory, it changes. I found an article from the Smithsonian while pondering this question, and this line resonated with me:
[The author] says it may be impossible for humans or any other animal to bring a memory to mind without altering it in some way. Nader thinks it’s likely that some types of memory, such as a flashbulb memory, are more susceptible to change than others.He defines "flashbulb" memory as those that occur when something momentous happens, such as where you were when Kennedy died, or 9/11 or similar. When we bring up that memory, it can be totally different than what actually happened during the event. I have plenty of flashbulb memories from events that happened in my own life: where I was when Stephen died in the hospital; when I received word that Daddy had a heart attack and I needed to come home immediately; and where I was when I got the call that Chris was gone.
I suppose if I won the lottery, for example, that would be a flashbulb memory of a positive event. But most of my memories, those that I recall, are not of wonderful moments. I found a picture of my first wedding, which is very distant in my memory now, and I was surprised to see people in the picture I don't remember at all. All I remember of that day is my pretty blue silk dress and the ride from the church to my new home with my newly created husband. I was all of eighteen and he was twenty. No wonder I don't remember much! I was also pregnant and desperate to hide that fact from the world.
It would be interesting for me to sit down and write a timeline of my life, to see how much I can actually recollect as far as facts and figures go, and then see what I might actually remember from all those different lives. Now that I've been here in the Pacific Northwest for six years, it feels like those other situations were just vehicles on the path to bring me to this place. And it's a good place, a good life. The advent of the internet and blogging has given me the ability to document and record this period. When I go back and read some of my early posts, it's kind of like revisiting a favorite novel.
Well, it's about time for me to wrap this up so I can get on with the day. My partner still sleeps beside me, my tea is gone, and the warm sunshine of early summer lights up the outdoors, beckoning me to get out of bed and get started. Today I'll go to the movies with a couple of my apartment neighbors. We talked about doing so while gathering strawberries in the garden, and now it's become a reality. I am wishing all of you a day to remember, one that you will recall happily years from now.