My first memories are, oddly enough, of sunshine. Though many months of my life have been spent under ground in one form or another, my first clear chapter begins elsewhere.
I remember cool air all around me, the kind of ripe, rich smell that early fall and spring are rife with. Whether it’s the scent of death – decaying plants, exhumed bacteria, chemistry – or the smell of life – seeping water, budding trees, chemistry – it’s always fresh and potent. I guess it’s kind of funny that both our beginnings and ends should be so pungent, especially when our middling sections are so very bland. We start with salt and end with pepper, with nothing but paprika in between.
I hate paprika.
Yet this is not the story of an end or a beginning in the conventional sense. While we, too will leave each other – as is the natural course of things – the meat here is in the middle and a girl named Mel.
I’ve tried to make notes, here and there, to clarify things. I suppose they won’t really be clear until the end. And that’s ok. But I wanted you to know I tried. No, I don’t know you. And you certainly don’t know me yet – nor how I know your name, Mel. But I want you to know that I know you already, and that I want you to understand. Understanding isn’t often easy; in fact, it can be the hardest thing of all to do. So much easier to brush away those around you, to erect barriers to keep out that which you don’t already know. My life ended up being a search for understanding, and while I wouldn’t really wish any of my experiences on anyone else, I can’t think of a better pursuit. Everything we do is rooted in our search for understanding, I think. I just hope that I’m right. I guess I just hope that I understand the big picture, and haven’t gotten lost in some dead-end fractal loop.
So it’s a small glade (I think) because it’s all green and still around me, and it’s cool and it smells strong, like fall (or spring) and everything’s green and cool and slightly damp. I’m standing; the grass is just long enough to tickle my ankles over my socks. They’ve worked their way down under my heels – I really hate that, just so you know – and my toes are wet. Shoes soaked. But I’m not looking at my shoes. I’m not looking around. I’m looking up between the trees.
I remember the way the sunlight was coming through the branches, cutting between the leaves. It was like one of those religious paintings, or the end of Fantasia or something – like the rays of light had become solid things, transcended their physical state and become something much more. Allegorical. Like a seraphim would float on down on the beam, zip line down from on high and deliver some catastrophically important message.
That’s all I remember. How pretty it was. The cool, the damp. My socks. Such silly little things. But I also remember thinking that this was important. That the way the light came through the branches meant something more, was in some way more important than I could really know. Like a tickle on the brain, or the way sandbars can play with waves – you know it’s there, you can feel it, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
I don’t remember the thing under the tree.
But I guess that’s it. Not sure where it was or when – though I know I was small, very small. Toddling about – you know. And that’s about it until I was in Washington. That’s my next memory, I guess – getting lost in the subway. Most scared I’ve ever been in my life. Plenty of moments like that, though, now that I think about it – scares and close calls and adrenaline rushes. Nothing as pleasant as the sunshine. It was like for a moment, I was the most special person in the world. Like everything was willing to stop for a moment to bring me in on the joke, to let me in on the secret of life.
I don’t remember the thing speaking to me.
Everyone wants a moment like that, I think. Just a second or three when the whole world is on your side and you can do anything. Moments like that can last a lifetime, revitalize you, stick with you forever. I think that one’s mine. There it is, see? The search for meaning. I may not know what it is – ever. Sunshine on my face. But I know that it’s important, so I cling to it.
I don’t remember the thing touching me.
But the subway child is a fun memory, too, by the way. The District (am I capitalizing it when I speak? Sheesh.) was a beautiful place in some ways – so much to do, so much to see, so full of life and importance and all kinds of people – but it also held its share of ugliness. Not trying to be trite; that’s really just the way it is with the big cities.
That one will wait for another time, Mel. I’ll tell you about the subway – and why I was so scared. It’s silly now, looking back. Everything’s clearer in hindsight, they say. There was absolutely nothing to be afraid of – but I was terrified nonetheless.
I don’t remember the thing.
I’ll tell you next time. Take care, dear.