A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favorite novels of all time, I read it shortly after it was published twenty-four years ago and it has moved from place to place with me ever since. It sits on the bookshelf near my bed between Alice in Wonderland and the poetry of E.E. Cummings. When I shed my old life I also shed a lifetime of books, but a select few changed me in ways that I can still recall and, as such, are like family.
“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice.”
Memories are funny things. This morning I was on the hunt for winter coats. I remember washing them in the Spring but I can’t remember where I stored them. Dear god, they are somewhere. Oh, of course, I must have stashed them at the top of the stairs. And so at 6:30 a.m. I start pushing and pulling boxes in the dark, muttering to myself, The boys need them today, it’s COLD…
…and in an instant, I’ve lost my balance.
It happens in slow motion, slo-ow like it’s happening to someone else, when the uppermost bin that I’ve been trying to open tumbles down over and around my head. I can do nothing but hold my arms out and feel the contents crash around me on the stairs. The sound of shattering glass makes me gulp but I don’t move. No winter coats, just a million pictures some ten, twenty, thirty years old, some older. Albums, a picture under glass, my high school diploma, a charm bracelet from when I was seven. My memories literally rain down on my noggin and I spend the better part of an hour picking them up, looking, remembering. Pushing them away, then peering at them in surprise.
So much unorganized chaos, my memories. There I am at 13 spiking a volleyball. Here I am with my fellow 20-somethings in my first job. Here I am in my 30s, single and tan drinking on the beach. Here we are, a family of four, then a family of six. I don’t write about them, my other sons, but in my old life I had four boys — two by birth, two by step. Seeing them at age four and seven, why do they still feel like my family? Well of course it’s because they are in the ways that count most, but things change when you divorce. Here we are painting Easter eggs and cutting down a Christmas tree. Little boys, now grown men. The memories pool in my chest and yep, it still hurts, but if it hurts then we are alive.
Here then, strewn on the dusty stairs, are the banished relics of my life. Poor forgotten memories, unbidden, pushed away.
And now the bin is re-packed and again placed high on a shelf at the top of the stairs, but this time the memories expand, filling memories with more memories like a damn inflatable air mattress. This morning’s fateful intervention of box and noggin has dislodged a torrent of tears, and so I sit with them and write. It’s not so easy to sit in the chair but how else will it get done. I am getting it all down, it’s been a long time coming, but the words begin to trickle and now flow, flow and stop, slow against the boulders of memory then make their way around.
Memories are tough to wrestle to the page, especially when Memory wants to hide things from you, when Memory is a cold, stark bitch…
Sometimes, too, she is your conscience, your guide, the friend you call in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep.
Sometimes she is warm and full of laughter and reminds you of who you once were and who you might still be.
Well, then. What if you were to just accept this one-and-only life AS-IS and be grateful for it all: And I mean the diagnosis of course, because under all of it, all of THIS, autism is alive and well here; the grief, the grievances, the betrayals tiny and large, that time when you were 14 and she hurt you, he hurt you, the world hurt you and you thought you’d never get over it. Try, and while you’re at it, give thanks for a the box that hit you on the head to remind you of your texture, the mystery that is you. Be grateful for a book on a shelf that made you see the world or yourself differently, the tattered pages of a life, a time, a love. Be grateful and write.