My email reminds me where we went to dinner with Matt’s parents on Sunday, August 13, 2017. My text messages remind me that Matt didn’t play well during the casual tennis match he’d scheduled with a friend that morning. The pictures only confirm what the emails and text messages already described.
I have a faint sliver of a memory from August 13, 2017, a flash of a memory, hardly enough to even mention, and certainly not enough to tell a story. Meaning, my imperfect memory adds nothing to the story.
I’m anxious today, August 13, 2018, to start writing about August 16, 2017 and the days that came after. Not particularly because I’m anxious to re-live those days—I can re-live those days without reviewing text messages and emails—but because so many details from so many days are scattered. As we scrambled to make decisions—always reactive, always one step behind the tumor—the days rushed past faster than my mind could commit everything to memory. Now, I am left with days that are burned like brands into my mind, but also flashes of memory that float around, unanchored to any time or place or space.
I find myself wondering whether a certain conversation happened before or after an event, and wondering whether the timeline in my memory has been altered by that ever-present tendency toward the overdramatic. I find myself trying to place a particular flash of memory into context, into a time and place and space. The visual that comes to mind is a jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle is complete enough to show the image, but a few key pieces are still waiting to be fitted into their spots.
I was going to write that I’m often struck and left breathless by a flash of memory at the most random and unpredictable times. And then I realized that wasn’t quite true. It had been true. Before I started writing our story, flashes of memories, unmoored by context, would attack at any given time. Something as simple as checking out at the grocery store might send me reeling back in time, toward a moment in the past with no obvious correlation to the present. But since I started writing, the flashbacks have settled. They come, but less frequently, and usually with an obvious trigger.
Maybe that’s a sign that I’m learning to live around the grief, which I’ve heard is what happens—the grief doesn’t fade, life just fills in around that pocket of emptiness. That’s the most rational answer. But I never promised to be rational.
I could almost believe the unmoored flashbacks have stopped attacking at any given time because writing them out—even the promise of writing them out—has settled those volatile memories. The flashes of memory don’t need to attack because a part of me knows that I will pick each one up at some point, acknowledge it, examine it, and give it a time and place and space. Any good writer knows there’s value in context.
But I could also almost believe that telling the story, forcing those flashes of memory out of my head and into the world, makes them less volatile. I could almost believe I’m not being attacked by the unmoored flashes of memory because I’m not living the memories—completing the jigsaw puzzle—alone.
And for that I’m endlessly grateful.