Memory is a strange thing. It was such an insignificant part of my life for a long time, ten years at least. When I was in my early twenties, I intentionally kept them amorphous, refusing to take pictures because I had little desire to remember things the exact way that they were, and instead hoped they would live on as something more private and meaningful. I only started writing a blog (which I insisted wasn’t a blog) because a friend of mine, during my second stay in Prague, asked me to contribute to his site. Now, I have no idea what happened to that site, or even what the name of it was.
As I got older, memories did return to me, but they were clear and understandable. Catalyzed from moments of familiarity and laced with sentimentality, which is it’s own perverse pleasure.
That’s no longer the case. Memories return to me, but they return disassociated from the rest of my life. They’re memories in the ether. With seemingly no catalyst, they come back to me without reason, and leave me stupefied to piece together their meaning. The context of before or after is nearly impossible to remember, and I’m lucky if I can give any specifics about when or who.
One of these memories has come back to me today and hasn’t left. It’s of sitting in a business like cafeteria at lunch reading Gogol, and someone who worked in the cafeteria coming up to me and making a comment about the book. We then had a brief exchange on his thoughts about the book, and Russian literature in general, and it was over.
However, my inability to conjure up specifics frustrates me- did he really work in the cafeteria, or was he there repairing something? When did I read Gogol? If it was in Chicago, I was probably working at the bank, but I don’t remember reading Gogol back then. Could it have been later, when I was in town for some reason? And if so, what was I doing in a business cafeteria?
In this memory, and all memories, the lack of specifics frustrates me. I consciously avoided permanence when I was younger, because I wanted memories to settle the way that they would, I thought there was something beautiful in that, but I hadn’t considered that they wouldn’t settle at all. If you didn’t care about the details when they were happening, then even false details won’t come to you later. And so I keep mapping out these island memories, hoping that each leads me towards something more complete, a meaning made clear.