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.