Outside the frame

I made plans to see friends I hadn’t seen in about 30 years, since high school. I took a Lyft to the bar and sat in a table by the front, and sent one of them a text:

Pat fell for it, and called Steve: do you think he’s serious? It would have been better if there had been a woman by the window and you sat at the bar when we came in, he said.

Then Pat texted me our class graduation photo so we could reference people while talking about them, but the resolution was so bad, I couldn’t make any of them out when I stretched their faces. It was like my memory when I tried to zoom in, it squeezed to the sides.

We drank beer and talked about our kids. And each of us went back to high school, in different ways. How much did we have beyond that? How long could it sustain us?

They remarked that it seemed like any time they came over to my house, my dad and I were always fighting; he was yelling, or telling me to turn the music down. And I saw myself through the eyes of our daughter Charlotte, and wondered how much the command and control parenting style was working with her, how she saw me.

My counselor observed, there’s a lot of anger and disappointment when you talk about your dad. She thought I should confront him on some topics when I went back to visit, and I wanted to be a good patient, to prove I could.

I sent my dad a text that I was running early, and picked him up out front. We drove the country roads through Pennsylvania Dutch farmlands to a town called Leather Corners, a Dutch bar where they play bladder fiddles (aka ‘boom-bas’) alongside the jukebox with polka versions of songs like “Let’s Go,” by The Cars. You just beat the boom-ba on the floor and hit a cow bell with a stick, and there you go: music!

Dad and I sat near the edge of the bar, that formed a square around the bartender. Though it was afternoon with good sun out, it was dark inside and they had Fox News on. There was no way I could confront my dad about anything, here. It seemed like my childhood, that thing we once shared, was better left in the past.

I told my counselor that when my parents divorced, it felt like all my childhood memories got deleted. When I went back to the physical places, the apartment where I grew up or the park across the street, the memories came rushing back. I wanted any excuse I could to feel something, so I could write about it. The worst was when the days went by unused or unnoticed, and didn’t feel like days I’d lived. And they were piling up.

How does a memoirist write memoir when you can’t remember much? Looking at old photos, like the one from our graduating class, didn’t help. It actually made the memories harder to apprehend. No, childhood memory is more about the feeling. And if you can get to that, there may be a story hiding in the feelings, outside the frame. Memory is in the sense, not the words: in feelings of joy, hate, and fear…rarely caught on film.

My friends and I said goodbye, and I caught a Lyft to another bar before heading home. It used to be an Irish place called JP O’Malleys or something, and the last time I was there was 1998. I couldn’t remember any of it. I was the only one there and got the sense they wanted to close. Outside, it was warm enough I could walk but wasn’t sure I knew the way, or if it was safe. Places don’t remember you, and the sentiment goes only one way. We are all just passing through. Best to be kind to everyone you meet, if that’s how you want to be remembered.

Categories: identity, Memoir, parenting, writing

Tags: , , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. Nice. The memoryless memoirist, the one way relationship with places. I couldn’t let this one go by without a comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Trauma obliterates memories. That state submerges all feeling like a sudden whitenoise tide.
    Kind is good. Compassion more connecting. The latter’s blood is tears.
    One of my friends came out as trans just now. I said courage, he said need. I’m scared for him.
    If I was with my more talented younger brother tonight, I’d pick a fight with him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bruce, I like what you said about trauma and the way you put that, very poetic. I’ll stew on that. And good luck to your friend, he’ll need your friendship more than ever! I had a friend who did the same but we never saw each other after, and I sometimes wish we had. What a thing that must be, and how deeply gender goes with identity. I thought I was pretty funny teasing my friends like that though, being from the Left Coast now. Ha! Enjoy the day, the coming fall for you there. Time to switch to red.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting, this one. Some nice images and turns of phrase: the low-res photo compared to your memory, the comparison between your dad and you as dad in command and control, wanting to please your counselor by confronting your dad but not being able to in the bar with Fox news on, and whether that’s even something you should do anyway (not something you said, just a question that arose for me).

    And the bit about the memory-less memoirist. I wonder what amount of memory is really needed for memoir. Obviously some, but maybe just enough to give context to one’s unique perception of events, how they felt and the impact they had. Our experiences are subjective, and two people experiencing the same event can have entirely different experiences. And on top of that comes the lies we tell ourselves, or the ways we spin something to make us feel better, or even worse, depending on our mindset. Thanks for this one, lots of good bits to chew on here. Hope all is well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well I can’t match the insight from that comment there old hoss, just to say if you were in my hood I’d look you up for some counseling myself! We’re coming up on our anniversary meet-up. Soon the cottonwood blooms will be coming down. And therein you and I have very different accounts of the same right?! Ha, love it and thank you for this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Memories are powerful. Thanks for sharing a part of your life deeply personal and making peace with the self is very therapeutic. Kindness is the most important thing. Places don’t remember you. I agree and relate to this line.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Greetings Vishal in your part of the world, hello! Yes to making peace with self as the best therapy. Thank you for the reminder on that, and for reading…always great to hear from you old friend! Glad you can relate, that’s good. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There’s a lot in here. It frustrates me that I can’t remember much from my teens and 20s. I feel handicapped, especially compared to those who seem to remember so much. But maybe they just remember different things and together we create a whole. Who knows. Now tell my why this one ex keeps popping up in my dreams.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You need to talk to a counselor about the ex in your dreams thing. I’ve started a dream journal to do exactly that: to talk to my counselor about why your ex keeps popping up in your dreams. But seriously, I forgot Eggers started McSweeney’s. I started rereading AHWOSG. I remembered it quite differently than how it’s coming across now. Funny. Can’t stop fascinating over memory. Happy and grateful to riff on it with you! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Memory sure is a strange thing. Someone I knew at the time sent me pictures from a trip we took together in ’78, and neither of us remembered the trip until we saw the photos. How weird is that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know. Part of it is the drugs and part of it isn’t, and it’s hard to tell which is which and eh — c’est la vie. I get that sense of disassociating too. Scatter ourselves all around the place.


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