I remember things that didn’t happen.
Landscapes, events, people, colors that according to my mother have all either sprung from my own imagination or from my dreams, conjured out of the ether, lacking substance and any basis in reality. I remember sledding down a long gradually sloping hill, bundled together with my sisters, the snow collecting against my eyelashes and stinging my cheeks as we flew. No, says my mother. Never happened. I remember lying on the open tailgate of our old white station wagon, on a quilt of my mother’s, gazing up at a giant drive-in movie screen. I remember falling asleep there, propped up on my elbows, my chin resting in my hands. I remember the delicious satisfaction of having stayed up past my bedtime, of falling asleep outside in the night air, with the loud antics of the cartoon characters slowly fading into the background. No way, my mother says, shaking her head vehemently. The only drive-in theater around while you were growing up showed pornos. Couldn’t have been.
Her negation of so many of the pictures stored inside my head makes me question the moments and the flavor of the memories she cannot contradict.
I remember looking up at the stars the first time I enjoyed kissing a boy. (Not the first time I kissed, but the first time I took pleasure in being kissed.) I remember the clandestine sneaking out of the movie theater we were supposed to be in, running instead down the sidewalk, stopping between two buildings. I identified the constellation Orion as he tipped my chin up towards his own face. The belt of stars, the shoulders and knees, the arched bow all shining brightly in the clear night sky. I smiled sweetly in the blackness of the night, happy to be standing right there, right then, with him. We were supposed to be in the movies.
Is that true? At fifteen, was I brazen enough to enjoy a moment of direct defiance of my parents’ rules? Did I really smile sweetly up at that boy, or did I, more likely, smile nervously? Was I admiring Orion, eternally aiming at Taurus, or was I worrying about getting caught, being seen by someone, anyone? Did the world stand still in that moment or did it rush past like all the others before and after it?
I cannot be sure.
I remember the shirt she wore the first time I saw her. It was a stretchy leopard print, with smears of turquoise running through the blacks and browns. She was striking in that shirt, with her short black curly hair against the white of her skin. She was beautiful. Her eyes were piercing, even as she talked about the most mundane of things. There was an urgency in her. Eating breakfast cereal, walking to the library, watching television. Everything with her had more weight, was intensified.
But maybe that isn’t true at all. Maybe this hyper-awareness comes only in hindsight, looking back on her life with the certain terrible knowledge that it will be short.
The past is past and the present is quickly becoming so, the synapses of my brain firing frantically to store away the tenor of the moment as it passes. These black keys clicking beneath my fingernails, the spacebar, the delete. The breeze of the ceiling fan. The quiet. The way the pillows support my head as I lie back in bed.
I remember summer nights past, nights so similar they blend into the present, nights when the cicadas screeched in just the same way, and the weight of the bed sheets covering my legs was equal to the weight of the bed sheets covering my legs just now.
I fell asleep many hot July nights on a small cot at the foot of the bed in my grandparents’ guest room, the guest room bed where my two sisters lay tangled in covers, arguing in stage whispers until they both finally dropped away to sleep. The guest room opened off of the master bedroom in Grammy and Granddaddy’s house, and in the master bedroom, mounted on a shelf high in a corner, was a television plugged into a timer. Each night before slipping into bed, one of my grandparents would crank the dial; the muted strains of the M*A*S*H theme song and the whir of televised chopper blades couldn’t cover my granddad’s snores as he fell asleep, long before the dial ran down and the television flipped off. Grammy would invariably be awake long after the television was silent, sitting on her side of the bed (always the right side) with her knees drawn up, a paperback book balanced across them. Every so often I would hear the brush of a page being turned. Straining, listening for the next one, I would float to sleep myself.
Now my grandmother lies, miles away, in a bed of her own, 87 years of memories slowly unraveling inside her head. She does not remember me lying there on the cot. She does not remember the book she read, its plot or the small weight of it in her hands, nor, possibly, does she remember what a book is, or the reason for it. We cannot be sure what she knows or does not know, what she remembers but is unable to express. The words make no sense to her, the letters jumbled impossibly together, incomprehensible.
I remember the future, myself, flying through the air birdlike, arms outstretched. I remember the way the air will taste on my tongue, like the promise of rain. Who can contradict me?
I wonder what I have yet to remember, what I have yet to forget.
When I fall asleep in the car, my father comes around to lift me out and carry me into the house. I am small and don’t weigh much, though in sleep my body is heavier. I wake but pretend not to, so that he will carry me. I wonder if he can feel the weight of me change. I treasure the feeling of being wrapped in his arms and lifted, though I know I am too old to be held. I am seven years old, and we have just gotten home from the drive-in movie theater. I am happily exhausted with the thrill of it.
In eight years, a boy will kiss me, and I will look up at the stars.
In eleven years, I will meet a girl in a leopard print shirt.
In twenty-three years, I will sit up in bed and write. My fingernails will click across the keyboard. The weight of the sheets across my legs will be pleasant, will be just right.
Tomorrow, I may not remember any of this.