Our memories are its gatekeepers…
So begins a poem that appears in Cemetery Street. Shannie (pronounced Shane-ie) wrote it in James’ birthday card, and like so many things about Shannie, its significance haunts the narrator. So much that he recites the poem before her headstone. Was Shannie inferring that memories are the sentinels of our souls?
Your guess is as good as mine. I claim lack of expertise in the science of memory, but I have written a novel about romancing a memory, so that qualifies me to pontificate about memory’s potential sappy nature.
I have a feeling James isn’t unique and am willing to bet that everyone who reads this post is haunted by memories – good or bad, funny or sad. Double or nothing that you may have even obsessed over one or two. Heck, I may even be guilty of such an offense.
I hear the romantics shouting: “How can you not be guilty?”
Maybe the answer is directly related to how much time one spends in the memory universe and how much energy is expended recalling them. There’s no denying their power, heck, memories define our identity. Isn’t that what Shannie was saying? If it was, in lies their danger.
– Your father cursed and threw things when he cranked on a wrench, so you have an aversion to auto mechanics.
– You failed 7th grade English class and believed you could never write.
Suddenly, we’re in danger of being memory’s prisoner. James may be guilty as charged. On the other hand, maybe he’s a victim of circumstance and his obsession is a way not to relive the horror of a lost identity. (Plot hint… Plot hint… Plot hint…)
Here’s what James writes about regaining his memory:
“As I pen these words, I deal with the effects of what happened in the early fall of 1994. I forget things – I’ve learned that a short pencil is better than a long memory – and only come to cherished memories with the help of pictures or scents. Although playing with aromas is playing with fire. Certain smells trigger avalanches of uncontrollable memories: the smell of steak releases an onslaught of memories of my family; brewing coffee frees Shannie; burning leaves remind me of Count; cigar smoke evokes Russell and Main Street; burnt rubber takes me back to Atlantic City. The force of such memories paralyzes me. It’s as if my memories have me. It makes for a distracted lifestyle. Pictures are much safer, they aren’t the frayed edge of an unpredictable memory strand.”
I’m by no means a memory expert, but as you’ve read, I have written about them. In a sense, Cemetery Street is a memoir, but it’s the memoir of a fictional character, with fictional memories. So maybe that makes me an expert in fictional memories.
John, that’s all well and good, but you can’t tell me that Cemetery Street isn’t your memoir.
Well, yes I can. If it was, I would be on serious anti-depressants. I’m not saying there isn’t a memory or two woven into the story’s fabric. But I’m a prankster at heart and like to keep people guessing what is real and what is made up.
If you haven’t read Cemetery Street you can take a chance on winning a signed paperback copy.
Before I forget, this is what Shannie wrote in James’ Birthday card:
If our eyes are the gateway to the soul
Our memories are its gatekeepers
Out of memory comes meaning
Out of meaning – warmth
Out of warmth – Love
Out of Love – Us
Beyond anyone – I remember you.