Memory-keeping

As I’m sure a lot of people are, I’m taking advantage of this period of isolation to reorganise and tidy up. I’ve thrown out a heap of things, emptied the filing cabinet and moved it into the garage, sorted through sundry boxes and introduced some order. There’s still much to do, but I have more space and more method as a result so far.

In doing something like this you happen across things long forgotten. I’m a bit of a sentimental hoarder, so in amongst that stuff is a fair bit of family stuff, a lot of old writings, and a trove of sentimental jottings.

The jottings are just that – scraps of paper on which I’ve expressed a passing thought or observation. Some of them go deeper than that. On the back of old photocopied documents, there are postulations and ruminations and the occasional list. Here I am probing, searching for in words the answers I don’t possess. There are hypotheses and examinations and analysis, as well as the odd outpouring of feeling. Taken together, they paint a vivid picture.

Most of these go back to the nineties, inspired by a deeply felt but fraught relationship with a girl I called B. I’ve written of her before and don’t intend to rehash the story again now, except to remind you that she’s the one who would ultimately take her life. That was after we parted.

I didn’t know anything about that then. In fact, that’s one of the features of these jottings – they’re all in the moment. I don’t know where this will end up, though throughout it there is much hope as there is doubt. Reading all these years later, I know different. I’ve seen this movie, and I know how it ends. It only makes these fragments all the more poignant.

I was a romantic, lusty character then and probably 90% of the fragments relate to women. Some are more inward, a reflection of myself through these experiences. I seek to understand who I am, if I’m true, what my strengths are, my weaknesses, and what I aspire to in the long life ahead of me. They seem so fresh to me. I can hardly believe that so much time has passed, that the passionate young man I was then has become the questing, taciturn man I am today.

I flicked through it randomly, promising one day that I would return and examine them more closely. There were things I remembered, but equally, there were references to women that have since slipped my mind altogether. The most recent would be no more than a dozen years ago, but that’s telling in itself. These dozen years turned my life upside down.

I didn’t want to lose these things, and so I gathered them together and found a suitable container for them – a white, zip-up cloth box made for such mementoes.

It got me to thinking. Twice in my life, I’ve gone through the last possessions of loved ones – an aunt, and my mum. They’re gone, and you loved them so, but in their wake, there are things to be done. What was open must now be closed, but someone has to do the closing.

What that equates to in real life is going through the homes of the people you love and sorting every possession into categories. There are things that can be shared or given away. Much of this will have sentimental value for someone, but there’s also a lot of stuff that can still be put to good use. There are things that can be sold – a fridge, a dining suite, a desk, and so on. There’s stuff that can be donated to charity. And then there’s the stuff that falls outside of this – photo albums and old letters, souvenirs and postcards and the things that held value for the person now gone.

I remember my aunt had letters from a cousin (I think), writing from Vietnam. They were vivid, lively letters, and I wondered at the man who had written them. Had I ever met him? I was curious and sad in a way, and it seemed wrong to dispose of these letters in the common pile of things to be disposed of. These were worlds. I don’t know what happened to them in the end, but I know I don’t have them.

Of course, each time someone dies a unique world is lost to us. All those memories and experiences, of course, but also a perspective, a view of the world, an interpretation of it. I think it’s some variation of this knowledge that inspired me to write, and why I keep a blog – I don’t want my perspective to be lost.

Which brings me to these jottings. What happens when I die, I wondered? More than likely, there’ll be a forensic clear-out of my possessions. The jottings may be looked at, they may even appear interesting for a moment, but then – most probably – they’ll be disposed of.

It’s another form of death. After we’re gone we live on in the memories of others, until they are gone to. Then we’re just a name in a registry. Who were we? What did we mean? What was our story? There’s no way of knowing that unless our voice lives on.

When I wrote these fragments, I pored my heart into them. I felt the truth of my existence keenly. Everything was vital to me. Those moments were precious to me, and what they meant. They may have meaning for no-one other than myself, but they are my authentic voice, and I couldn’t bear to think they’d end up in a furnace with me.

I contacted a friend. I explained that he knew me better than anyone now and had lived through most of my story. I wanted him to take possession of these jottings after I’m gone, to be my memory keeper.

I think that’s a worthy concept I may one day formalise as part of my will: a memory keeper. Everyone deserves that. Someone to remember you and to keep the memory fresh and alive. This was H…

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