Yesterday my sister played Scrabble with my mother while visiting her at the hospital. "I think it's the first time in my life I've ever played Scrabble," my sister said when we spoke on the phone.
"How can that be?" I asked. "Scrabble was our family game."
It's a phenomena I've noticed before. Same family. Different experiences.
J. is my eldest sibling. She has always been the responsible one. The one who is the primary care-giver for our mother today and who mothered her even when we were growing up. I am the youngest. The eight years separating our births don't add up to a lifetime, but in familial history, eight years represents a lifetime of differing experience.
Aldous Huxley wrote, “Every man's memory is his private literature.”
The stories we tell about ourselves, about our lives, they are the literature of our past filtered through the sometimes faulty wires criss-crossing over memory lane, leading us out of yesterday into today. Memory is not always faithful.
Take the time I accused a girl named Sue P. for having stolen my boyfriend when I was 14. "I never dated him," she emphatically replied. "He dated Sue C. after you broke up." (Did I mention I was in my 40s when this encounter happened at a school reunion? I was actually apologizing to Sue P. for having been rude to her once upon a time. This was my first opportunity to clear the air that had fogged up my conscience since my unfortunate behaviour years before.) When I apologized both Sue's were sitting with the boy in question.
Sue C. jumped in and informed me that they had dated, but she'd never stolen him from me. "You were already broken up," she asserted.
Now, I know I was broken up. He had broken my heart by dumping me for someone else, or so my memory would have me believe. For 30 years, however, I had carried the visual memory of Sue P. and my boyfriend walking down a tree-lined lane, holding hands. In one statement that memory was eradicated, erased, altered, but not replaced by a visual of Sue C. and the boy walking together. In my memory, that never happened.
Memory is slippery. We immortalize it, concretize it, or, as happens to many an unhappy childhood, attempt to erase it or at least forget it. No amount of scrubbing, rinsing or dousing with flames of regret or tears of sorrow will rid memory. Memory is persistent. It lingers. Settles in. Even when we think it's gone, it's only napping. Memory is the stuff our dreams are built on. Memory is the stuff upon which our dreams can falter and never find the breath of reality to give them substance if we do not find the courage to examine them in the light of today.
I have always dreamt of being a writer. Yet, for years, I struggled to write. Not pretty prose but rather dark, angst-driven stories of life and love and sorrow and tears and pain and trials and tribulations -- and triumph. I once tried to write a harlequin romance but was too issues-driven to let my characters sink into sordid pleasure. They kept leaping up to run off and save the world, right the wrongs, and stop the wrong-doing.
I also once tried to write erotica a la Anais Nin. The usually voluble and strident critic on my shoulder was quiet during that attempt, perhaps because he was dumbfounded that those images could traipse onto my keyboard like confetti falling at a wedding. The thought of the larger-than-life critics in my life who were lurking behind the next orgasmic maneuver, waiting to pounce and tie-me up so that I would never write again, however, kept me from writing a sequel to that one and only attempt. Alas, the memory of my mother's voice pounded my desire to be known as Elektra of the Erotica into the earthy roots of my inhibited soils. "Good girls don't talk about s-e-x", I can hear my mother say in a surreptitious whisper as she spelt out the letters to a word that was not polite to repeat in public. (They also didn't 'do it', and if they did they'd better high tail it down to the confessional booth and get ready for a lifetime on bended knees whispering the Hail Mary).
Memory also plays a hand in my desire to tie up the endings of my stories with a pretty, red bow, tucking in all loose ends and making any extraneous detail fit. Tucked into a corner of my memory bank is the incident in Grade 7 English where a teacher told me I had to change the ending of my story so that the hero and heroin were not killed. In my memory, I remember her saying, "I can't give you a passing grade if you leave the ending like this." I wanted to rebel. To tell her it was my story, my ending, but, marks were marks and the teacher ruled. I changed the ending and today must consciously focus on sticking to my story to ensure I keep the threads of that memory unravelled so they don't limit my creative expression with their insistence to 'get it right'.
There is no right nor wrong in memory. There simply is what we remember. The wrong comes into play when we let our memories hold us back from being great. The right wings out when we let memory lift us up to the challenges of every day living so that we can fly free of the voices that tell us we don't have wings to fly.
For my sister last night, playing Scrabble with my mother awoke in me the memory of a shared experience she'd never had before.
For me, that game represented all that I know to be true, and untrue, in my familial history. Playing Scrabble is one of my fondest memories of my childhood. It is from my father I gained my love of words, the importance of writing them down, and an appreciation of the power of words to touch hearts and open minds.
Most of what I learned about words as a child was gained in the laying out of seven letters to form the best word I could find. "Don't go for the easy answer," my father would say. We weren't allowed to use the dictionary. We had to use our heads. "You've got to think for yourself," dad would say. "Look at the letters. Imagine the word appearing."
It's never too late to create a memory. For my sister, J., last night she started a new memory with my mother linked into a game my family has always played. Her memory of the game is different than mine, but in both our minds, it is a game we will forever link to our father.
There are only seven letters on a wooden tile to play with, but to me, they are the lifeline linking me to my father, to a history of my family where some of us were included in the game while others watched from the sidelines waiting until it was their turn to play.
The power of those seven letters lives in my memory today. They taught me how to find the words that guided me onto my writer's path. They taught me how to express myself on the written page.
The question is: What memories lift you up to strive to be the best that you can be? What memories can you polish up so that you can create new words, new ideas, new tomorrows on the images of the past?