Monday, October 04, 2004

Better get cozy. This might take a little while...

In some versions of the King Arthur story, Merlin the Magician is described as having been born at the instant the world came to an end. He lived his life backwards. As a result, he had already lived through the future by the time he was an old man. Unlike other people, who grow older and wiser with time, Merlin experienced the consequences before the catalysts. Because he was a younger, less wise man when he witnessed the outcomes, he didn't always have the best understanding of which thing caused what. He had to constantly sift through his memories, which, because he lived backwards, were comprised of everyone else's destinies, trying to warn (or teach) people about the right thing at the right time. Unfortunately for Arthur, Merlin occasionally got confused and gave off the impression of having a Swiss cheese-like memory: strong and full of holes.

The other week, hefk and I were talking about her classes and how she has to structure her fifth period lessons around lunch breaks that divide into three (A, B and C) parts, which, of course, was how HHS did it. She said that her memory begins in high school, further back than that is fuzzy. That discussion lead to a full-on demonstration of my frighteningly detailed memory. If you've never reminisced with me before, then you should know that my first memories (that can be corroborated by other people) are from when I was about 10-months-old.

And I don't just remember things *I* experienced. I remember things people told me that happened to them before I met them that they've since forgotten. I remember the origins of other people's inside jokes. Of course, my memory isn't perfect. There are some really painful things I *have* managed to forget. Like everyone, I sometimes I remember things how I wish they would have happened. Like everyone, sometimes I don't remember things properly because I misunderstood (or was in denial about) the situation as it was occurring.

The thing most people don't get, though, is that my memory never really turns off. It's running constantly. Constantly. Not just when a scent or a song reminds me of something, or when people quiz me about the plots of old Sweet Valley High books as a party trick. It never stops. The longer I live, the more memories I have, obviously. But because the memories are always running, I am, kind of like the Merlin example, living both forwards and backwards simultaneously. Today offers a few interesting examples, so I'll try and explain it with specifics, shall I?

Okay. This is how a normal person would describe my day. This might be how I would describe my day if I were pretending to be normal or, at the very least, when I try to ignore my scary memory. I swear, if I could delete half of the crap that's in my head, I could harness the wasted power and move objects with my mind. At least, I would probably remember where I put my keys.

Here goes: I slept 'til noon, got up, walked the dog, chatted to Kelly. Carucha picked me up. We drove into the city, originally planning to go to a big demonstration-type gathering of knitters in the village (Greenwich Village is neither in Greenwich, nor a village. Discuss.) and then to see a show that College Roommate Erika was in. A lot of people I went to college with were involved in its creation, including the playwright, producer and lead actor. There was a parade down 5th Avenue, and we were stopped in traffic for a long time while a marching band passed. We skipped the knitting thing and caught the sold-out show, since luckily there were a few ticket holders who were no-shows. Then Carucha and I went to a funny Trailer Park Diner in Chelsea. We split a hot Krispy Kreme for dessert. We wandered through a shop- a costume shop anyway, but in all its glory for Halloween- and began winding slowly through still-slow traffic back to Mount Vernon.

Here's how a day I experience a day like this. Forget all the memories jogged by the parade- 7 years of participation in marching bands, plus memories from trying to cover the Pride Parade- I'll just start with the arrival at the theater.

[Present Day:] Erika touches my shoulder as she passes me in the lobby. I'm about to see her performing in a show written by Julien, a guy I knew in college, with whom she was once desperately in unrequited love.

*2000: I can see her, sitting on the screened in porch, smoking a cigarette. She's talking to my Soph/Jr/Sr Roommate Jo, her friend more than mine at the time. She wants to break the lease she signed to live at Marathon House (if the Drama Dept was a fraternity; this was their house) and live with us instead senior year. Okay. She's over him, but.... I think she's been crying.

*in Sept. 9, 1999: Julien is putting on a Paul Simon CD, at a 9/9/99 party in the apartment where Erika lived during study abroad. Our semester in London is when I spent the most time with Julien, who was Stephen's best friend freshman year, before he was never *not* under the influence of a variety of recreational drugs.*

[Present Day:] A catalogue of faces from college are scattered all around this little black box theater. Julien wrote this play. It's the last performance. He's got to be around here, right? He's... okay, that guy sitting two feet away from me. We chat: Hi! Yeah, no, well, to see Erika, but also... How're you doing? Fine, fine. I'm glad we got in. You wrote a sold out show, congratulations. Yeah, Boston. Stephen's playing a quadriplegic Elvis impersonator who gets a (fake) hand job from a man on stage. And then kissed on the mouth by man. "I may just have to see that," he says.

*1999: my Finsbury flatshare. Julien's wearing baggy pants and walking down a short flight of stairs in the apartment. "I feel like a miner in these pants." He does a funny sort of Cartoon Gold Rush walk, saying "There's gold in 'em hills!"*

*December 1997. Walking back from a Pimps and Hos party at 3 a.m. I'm tipsy, wearing a borrowed red dress that's just a little shorter than something that would have been appropriate at a Hempf!eld Homecoming Dance, to be honest. And Come F*ck Me Shoes. Jo is drunk. She was wearing borrowed velvet hot pants with fishnets and pulled off the "ho" costume with greater success. Our feet were killing us. Julien is walking us back. I start walking barefoot, even though there's snow on the ground and salt on the sidewalk. My feet hurt so much. Jo's in worse shape. She decides to crawl, which Julien and I insist is a terrible idea. I'll never forget this. He takes off his Converse basketball sneakers and gives them to me to wear. Barefoot, he gives Jo a piggyback ride all the way back to the dorm.*

[Present Day:] The director makes a little speech about what else this little theater company has going on. He mentions that "reading director M!chael We!selberg" recently received permission to translate a play from Hebrew something something something Israeli consulate. He nods to someone behind me, and there's Mike, whom I first met in Junior High, *1991: when his name was Hal. [Back to Present Day:] I give him a little wave. He has no idea who I am. I wish I were thinner.

The show starts. The lead actor walks out on stage. Eric. He starred in the first play Stephen wrote, when it was produced in a young playwright's festival senior year.

*Mid-March 2001. Opening night for My Brother's Keeper (Stephen's play). He's nervous. I managed to shower and leave the house, only paging my shrink once. A miracle. I was wearing a dress I bought in London, sheer black over a pink shift. It stopped fitting in 2000 when my weight went up, but fit again once I got depressed and lost the will to eat. The last time we'd had a date, Valentine's Day, I had a panic attack in the Olive Garden and Stephen had to lead me from the restaurant in tears. I always wore that dress with my funky Mary Janes. I lost the right shoe in the move to Miami. I'm still pissed about that.*

[Present Day:] The show is wonderful. Eric, the lead, is doing this funny bit with a woman his character is meeting for the first time. In the plot, they individually sneak out of a movie to smoke and get locked out. They're doing this funny bit with popcorn someone else left out there that they really want to eat, but it's popcorn someone left in an alley, so... It reminds me of this scene in the play "Art" where the three characters are fighting, not speaking, but sharing a bowl of olives. I know this director. Program check. He directed Stephen in "Art." May 2001. Who else was in that? Julien. Huh. And another guy, who is not currently in this theater. I think.


I approach Mike/Hal. We talk about the English translation of the Hebrew play. He's seeking funding. I tell him he's got to reach out to art patrons in Chestwester. He tells me they need $10,000. I tell him I met a woman yesterday who paid that amount for her new puppy. I can't find my business card. He's telling me earnestly about the play.

*June 4, 1995. Hal's telling me earnestly about his crush on L@ura Sugerwal@, and that he's moving to Massachusetts. We're sitting on the swings in a park in Mountville at a joint birthday for my friend Becky and my not-friend L!ly L@i.*

*April 1994. We're sitting in his family's kitchen making a diorama of a polar biome with Kelly's brother. His house in Centerville had one of those crafty flags with a soccer ball on it by the door.*

*September 1997. I run into him into a huge party at Marathon House, where freshmen line up at a keg for a $5 plastic cup of beer. I'm wearing a kicky, brown velvet dress from Express that's not so kicky compared to all the tight, black pants and chunky platform shoes all around me. Hal's wearing a Green Day t-shirt and has a wallet chain. He tells me his name is Mike now, and he was cool in his school after HHS.*

[Present Day:] Act II. Erika's up on stage. She's wonderful. It's a flashback scene; her character is at a college house party. Her costume includes tight black pants and chunky platform shoes. The irony.

I see Emily, one of the theatre crowd from college, in the audience. She's cuddled up next to Nick, the producer and founder of this little post-grad theater company. They started going out senior year. Nick always wore a cap that looked like a knitted condom. He used to be haphazard about personal hygiene. Now he looks older, mature, clean, disconcertingly like hefk's husband. He's not wearing a hat.

The second act isn't as funny as the first. It's darker, you learn more about the characters' past. The more you know, the less you like them. It's not a happy ending, but it's real and it's raw. I am so proud of the friend I came here to see. The lights go up.

[Present Day:] As I file out, I pass by Emily, who is telling a young couple that "[She] and [her boyfriend] Nick would love to take the baby for a weekend." She gushes that they would love to baby-sit, any time!"

*April 2001:* College. Nick, a very tall, larger-frame guy under the influence of recreational drugs, jumped off a chair and accidentally crushed his housemate's kitten. It did not die immediately.*

[Present Day:] The young couple, clearly close friends, nod enthusiastically and promise to entrust the care of their newborn to them soon.

I say hello to Emily. I reintroduce myself. I know from Erika that she was in "Mona Lisa Smile." We chat, we hug, she thanks me for coming.

I hang out with Erika for a few minutes. She points out her new boyfriend, smoking a cigarette down the street. He is easy on the eyes. We promise to get together soon, when Jo is in town, if not sooner. I'm homesick for college.

Rue and I walk back to her car. I almost trip over my own feet, and she has to stop twice to re-tie her shoes. We're laughing, and I haven't been this grateful for a friend since *September 1984: I asked Wendy Shenberger to hold my Cabbage Patch Doll while I put my coat in my cubby on the first day of kindergarten.*

[Present Day:] We go to the funky trailer trash diner in Chelsea, and a few minutes later we're trying on Dame Edna glasses in a costume shop. I wish I had my camera. We drive home, and she gets on the GW bridge going the wrong way. We end up in Jersey and crawl back to Chestwester with the rest of the suburbanite traffic. We sing all the songs from the Dixie Chicks latest album titled "Home." The irony.

We're driving so slowly in traffic that we can fully appreciate the Manhattan skyline from the bridge. Rue expands on her dream to live in a big studio apartment in Harlem that doubles as a portrait studio. It occurs to me that someday, in the future, I will be crossing this bridge after visiting an old friend where she creates her art, and I will remember what I was wearing- black t-shirt, a denim skirt with striped thigh-high socks, and (my replacement) Mary Janes- and that we once knew all the lyrics to "White Trash Wedding."

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