Friday, November 11, 2011

Why I Write It Down

Nineteen seventy-seven was a big year for me.  A lot happened.  Some of it was wonderful and some of it wasn’t, which can probably be said about most years.

I was 19 and 20 in 1977, a college student living 3,000 miles away from home most of the year.

These are some of the things that happened to me:

--My father died;

--I fell in love;

--I read Madame Bovary in the original French.  It was the first time I was able to read a “real” book in another language;

--I took my first road trip without my family (from Pennsylvania to Fort Lauderdale for spring break);

--I worked during the summer in a friend’s gift shop.  I remember wearing a beige, knee-length, thin-wale corduroy skirt with an elasticized waist a lot that summer.  Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” always reminds me of that skirt;

--I met the man who would eventually become my husband and who is now my ex-husband (but I didn’t fall in love with him until 1978);

--I learned to do the Hustle.

Nineteen seventy-seven bisects my life, even though I’ve lived far more of my life afterwards.  I do a tally with every memory as it occurs to me, mentally inserting it in the “pre-1977” or “post-1977” slot.  It was the year I grew up, the year I became myself.  Everything that came before is sepia-hazy: fuzzy and ancient.

This is a picture of my mom.  She’s the one on the right.  I think she was in her early twenties when the photo was taken, which would mean that it’s from the early forties, probably snapped on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio.  The woman on the left is her friend Estine.  One of my favorite stories about Estine is that my mother was going to fix her up with a man whose last name was Key.  They figured out that if they got married, Estine’s name would sound like Stinky, so Estine said to forget it.  She never did get married.  The last I heard, she had advanced Alzheimer’s. 

My mother still knows who Estine is, but she doesn’t remember her name anymore.  More and more of her memories have faded, bleached away by age.  If she’s upset by this, she’s doing a good job of pretending she’s not.  But really, I don’t think she’s pretending.  I think something in old age protects you from this particular horror.

I don’t want to lose 1977.  Or anything.  I know that the odds are against this, that if I live long enough, I won’t remember the things I do now.  How the late spring looked that year from my dorm window: the trees lush and green and heavy in a way that California trees aren’t, the air thick with the smell of cut grass, the sun as warm as it is possible to be without slipping over into hot.

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