2015-09-26

Memory

We scattered my dad’s ashes today, and as part of the not-really-a-service-but-just-a-few-friends-and-family-gathering, I told a shorter version of the following story. My dad loved to tell stories about himself, a number of which were actually entirely true. This was one he didn’t tell often, though, because I suspect the reliving of it was as disquieting for him as it still is for me.

One of my very first memories comes from when I nearly died when I was four years old, and my dad saved my life. On the quiet suburban cul-de-sac where we lived at the time, a new house was under construction about four lots down from us. And because in those crazy, halcyon days when parents could get away with just letting their kids wander around the neighborhood unchaperoned, myself and a bunch of other equally young neighborhood kids were wandering around this under-construction house late in the afternoon that the concrete floor for the ground-level basement was poured, and after the work crew had cleared out for the day. Because they had just poured a concrete floor and left it to set overnight, the crew in question had been very careful to close off the still-under-construction doorways into the space — even as they neglected to do anything more than cross-slap a couple of pieces of wood across the open ground-level window frames.

As it happened, the spaces in between those boards across the windows were just about the right size for a small child to slip through. I’m pretty sure you see where this is going.

I remember being the first one through the window and onto the new basement floor. I made it about fifteen feet from the window, though I don’t remember now whether they’d poured the front floor already or whether there were boards or some other surface laid down to cover my first steps. I just remember that about fifteen feet from the window, I sunk up to my four-year-old shins in wet concrete.

The other kids behind me panicked and bolted. I was alone suddenly, and I couldn’t move.

I don’t know how long I was there. My memory tells me it was hours of trying and failing to pull my legs out of slowly setting concrete and not being strong enough to do so. I remember falling, more than once, and clawing my way back upright, covered in cement. I remember crying, I remember screaming, but there was no one around to hear me. I learned only later that the kids I was with were so scared of what had happened — and so young as to not fully understand what was going on — that they hadn’t actually told anybody. And I learned later as well that when my dad came home from work, he and my mom figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t anywhere I should have been, and he came looking for me at a run.

I remember the sun was going down, the basement almost dark. I remember having fallen for the last time, so exhausted that I couldn’t stand anymore, too tired to call out. I remember the sensation of being face-first in concrete and unable to move, encased in a surface layer of wet cement from head to foot.

I remember seeing my dad tear his way through the cross-boarded window and across the darkening basement toward me, the last light of the sun behind him. I remember him picking me up and pulling me free. I’m pretty sure my shoes got left behind.

I remember I fell asleep/passed out as he carried me home.


That’s not the only story I can tell about my dad, but it’s the first one. That’s a memory I’ve been carrying with me since I was four years old, and which I’ll hopefully carry for a few more years yet.

I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t believe that my dad and I will ever see each other again in any physical or metaphysical sense. But I believe in a connection between life and memory, and I believe that the people whose lives intersect with ours in meaningful ways live in our memories in a way beyond mere impression.

I believe that life is a continuum of memory and emotion. I believe that the reflection of each person we love becomes a part of us by virtue of the memories those people make in us. As we seize those memories, we draw a part of their lives inside our own. And in the same way, the people who love us draw off a part of us in the form of their own memories, and those memories of us contain the memories of all the people we loved, and in that endless connection is an immortality that binds us all.