The Pirates of Memory

My brain was on a loop, forever reprocessing the same irrational thought, so I slept poorly. In the morning, I couldn’t recall the idée fixe over which my subconscious had obsessed for what must have been hours. Tell me what you can’t remember, Freud once famously said. I grope in the mist but nothing solid remains.

All of the people you’ve known are a chemical imprint in the folds of your cortex. Sometimes you dream of a distant acquaintance, and sometimes it’s the shadows of fall or the smell of wind that electrifies the path where a memory lingers. I once lived with a woman who kept everything, and in a drawer I found a classroom note she’d been passed by a friend. It was the writing of a young child. Why, I wondered, had she kept this?

I never learn the answer, and maybe there isn’t one. I’m left to wonder: am I, too, remembered in the happenstance vestige of some dusty mental drawer? To what synaptic economy might I have been reduced? Perhaps when she buys prosciutto, or loses her keys in the rain, under a spring antimony sky, the ghost of my former self appears. It doesn’t matter, but still I wonder.

The teller gives me my 20s and I face them before they go into my wallet, as I’ve done since the day in 1979 when a friend remonstrated me at the Radio Shack. He takes out his wallet. “Look,” he says. “Like this.” All these years later, the cashier’s change recollects him.

In how many details have our acquaintances shaped us or left their fingerprints behind? If I were to upturn my mental furniture, and give it a shake, what relics would come loose? I remember the names of people who no longer exist in the form by which I apprehend them. They have changed their names, their cities, their affiliations, but what is that to me? Memory is a form of avarice, a pirate’s bay of conveniences and illusion. I remember only what is useful: love and youth, anecdotes, life lessons, and other such plunder.

I want to be remembered but I know that when it comes to sentiment we are all pirates.

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