Ana and I were at dinner with a couple of our older friends. They were in their 70’s now with grown-up kids. Unlike most people with disconnected age groups, we actually get along well. They are good people and possibly good friends of ours. The guy, Rustom was someone I’ve known since I moved to Cleveland. With my father gone and few relatives left, these ties to my few remaining friends have become increasingly important to me. This guy was at my younger daughter’s birthday. He had bought clothes for her and gifts that we sincerely appreciated. I knew him for a while now and he was probably the only one who I was comfortable talking to as we had common interests in finance. We were familiar with each other’s kids, situations, and lives.
Dinner was at a restaurant in Cleveland, a hushed place with artistically arranged food and dimly lit lighting, just enough to make us look slightly more flattering. We were grown-ups now — there was no shadow of a doubt there. We at least pretended like we were adults, had adult lives. He had two young children, I had two. It was a pleasant setting meant for benign conversations.
The four of us were talking about our kids when the subject turned to memory. Why do we remember some of the very specific things we do? Great pain definitely carves its own psychological path. But why some of the completely random, ordinary moments?
“I remember sitting on the kitchen counter, watching my mother make me sev, a vermicelli dish from the Persian household,” he said. He looked puzzled for a minute, reaching back. For a second I feared if he was having a mini-stroke.
“She must have made me sev hundreds of times. But I remember that one particular time. The slightly charred yet sweet scent of it”
I knew what all of us were thinking. What would our kids remember? The oldest among them — Jenifer — was nine. What ordinary moments had imprinted themselves on her at this point? And what about the painful ones? Ana and I never ever fought, especially in front of kids, but there had been an argument or two over the years that she had witnessed. Would that be what she took away from our peaceful, simplistic family life? Her parents scrunch faced and hissing at each other in hushed tones? I hoped not. Lord, I hoped not. But then who knew?
I always tried to create a daily sense of consistency and habit in our household, two types of glue that I felt would make the kids feel secure. Well, it had been in ours at least when I was growing up even though we did not have much to fend for but there was always this sense of security and consistency that we depended upon, almost took it for granted. So I organized little traditions around benign times. On birthdays, we bought little cakes from Market Basket, looking especially for those ones on sale. We ordered pizzas sometimes and I drove down to the local dominos to get them, piping hot and ready just so I could save on the tip we had to give if they were instead delivered.
On our table, I kept a book of Buddhist wisdom at times borrowed from the library, open to a different page each day. Some nights I would recite a story of the Buddha or along those lines, soak a bit in the little snippet of wisdom and look at the accompanying photograph. The flying red and white katas (flags) of Tibet. The monk meditating in the hidden valley, his face quiet and peaceful. Had any of it been absorbed by them? Would Becky be sitting in a restaurant with friends someday when she was old enough to need reading glasses to study the menu, and remember a completely random event from her childhood?
My father yelled at me because I didn’t clean my room. He made me feel guilty at times that I wasn’t doing enough.
My mother made me a chicken dish for school lunch.
Who knew what would stick?
It was all in there somewhere, conscious, and unconscious. Which of it finally stuck, what came up to the surface — and why?
“I feel no connection to the kid I was,” his wife suddenly said. I had never heard her say anything like this before. “I’m a completely different person.”
I understood feeling like a completely different person. I had been a very late bloomer, and when I thought back to my teenage self, my twenty-something self, I had a nagging thought — In all my life, childhood, adolescence, and teenager or after, I never had anyone who I could call a friend. I had acquaintances, even people who I was close with, used to laugh, gossip or share with, but there was always a part of me that held me back. Something that told me to gladly share, but then keep a part of you for yourself.
But no friends? I looked at my wife sitting across the table and I felt a sense of shame. She was the closest I would have to someone who I would label as a confidant, but even then, there were things I would never tell her either. It was just who I was, the way I was built. Could she see that in me? Was she — surely there must be — a satisfaction of knowing every intimate detail about your partner? Was sharing everything a precursor for friendship? Had I interpreted too strict a definition for what friendship was all about? In that moment, sitting at that table, I felt a sense of seeping discomfort, sadness actually — I wish there was someone I could call a friend, unburden, confide, and yet not feel a sense of unloading onto someone — My burdens becoming theirs.
I had few memories of my childhood, and my adolescence was a blur. My life came into focus for me around the time I left for USA. But still, I knew that each part of me — the lost adolescent fat kid, the seething angry young guy, the conflicted son, the grown man still trying to sort it all out — is linked one to the next, like a fragile chain of spider webs connected to each other.
But no, just no friends?. Completely different person?. I could see that it would be advantageous, maybe even preferable, to give up or forget pieces of the past — all the uncomfortable, unexplainable, embarrassing pieces of your past, just so your life could be remembered as one endless stream of cute memorable events.
But deep inside me, I knew better. I had experienced my own memory as something of a living entity, a palpable presence in my entity. I have had nights when I slept that I had felt my past unfurl inside me as if it had a mind of its own. These memories — Layers upon layers of them are always there, waiting for just the right moment to emerge.
The cooking of a fresh batch of sev and it’s sweet scent wafting. An overheard argument that lingers long after it’s done. A pair of legs hanging from the ceiling. The red and white katas of Tibet flying around.
A mix of epiphanies, perhaps, but then nothing is ever missing.
It’s just hidden from view.