I THOUGHT WHEN MA WAS GONE I’d finally pull them together, the scattered mess of stories, the memories that had paid me visits over the years.
I didn’t start out wanting to write any of it – was happy to just get out and away from it – but after I got out and away, and after some time passed, they came back to me at different times, the sights, sounds and even smells of isolated moments, brief exchanges, things I was witness to.
When they came, the memories, it was bag and baggage, whether I wanted them to or not. They moved right in and took over. Hovered. Interfered. Kept me from focusing on things that needed tending. The only way to get them to move along was putting pen to paper and writing them out.
Everything, as best I could. Leave nothing out. Put nothing in.
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IT HAPPENED THE FIRST TIME in 1989. A memory descended, clear as day. I tried everything to ignore it, but it was with me day and night until, at last, I captured in on paper. Then it left me alone. I set the pages aside and moved on.
After that, whenever a memory came in that way – imposing itself – I wasted no time, but sat right down and wrote it out. Captured it. Threw a net over it with ink and reeled it in.
Some few have been shared, published under a pen name, told to friends or used as an illustration. Mostly, though, they’ve just been piling up.
Every so often, I’d get to thinking about them and know I had something really important and that I ought to do something with them, but I held off.
After Ma’s gone, I thought. After Ma’s gone.
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THE WEIRD THING IS once Ma was gone, so was my pressing need to tell the stories. Poof! Gone. The strangest thing.
And I’d be happy to leave it like that, filed away, all of it, except for one thing. The last day I visited with Ma in her apartment, the last time I talked with her while she was sitting up in a chair, the last afternoon before the series of strokes that led to the end….I told her I would do it.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a deathbed promise. Just a regular promise. We don’t need to get dramatic about it.
“Don’t worry, Ma. I’ll do a good job,” I said.
“I know you will.” She surprised me with this, a vote of confidence. I remember that, how it took me by surprise.
Next post: The Last Sitting-Up Conversation.
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