A Curious Revelry
On the Inevitable Asymmetry of Conscious
There are memories in each of us that surface from time from a place that is seemingly unknown and that are part of a curious revelry that forms in the subconscious. Philosophy suggests that it is this revelry that forms sentience and eminent control of the mind. I tend to agree and enjoy the profundity of discussing these concepts at length, usually under the influence of a calming joint and in the company of friends.
For example, I have these peripheral memories from my youth when Mom and I were living in Sydney, having just recently left the United States to explore a new life on the other side of the world in Australia. For the most part, the memories are of just Mom and I, but, of course, other characters do, from time, populate the narrative, build the arc, form the plot line, define the parable, etc. It’s funny how they manage to take hold, and how they seem to bend upon themselves, folding into each other like a wrinkled love letter, in a way.
I remember being perhaps 5, or 6, years old at the most, and waking one morning in an unfamiliar place — certainly not in my own bed — and experiencing the distinct perplexity of the occurrence. It’s a seemingly innocuous experience in and of itself, but the cavalcade of emotion and memory it evokes is utterly extraordinary. It’s not a room I’ve awoken in, but rather, a space, an orbit of sorts. I say orbit, because the space itself is not defined by walls, but rather by color: a glowing halo of white above me; a sea of blue to the left of me; soft green blending into yellow to the right of me; and a more anxious orange in front and behind me. As I move, the space unfolds, the colors blend and the space becomes physical. I’m unsure of my direction, or rather the memory’s direction, but each step appears to lead me towards a new space and sooner or later I’ll enter a bedroom and see my mom sitting at the edge of a bed drinking coffee from a charcoal mug, both hands wrapped around the ceramic vessel as if the mug itself contained the sacred contents of her being. Always, she is wearing a silk, turquoise nightgown, beautifully patterned with hints of purple and flecks of a whitish gold. There is a man, too, perhaps a boyfriend, but his face and his appearance escapes me. He’s more a presence, less a construct. As the scene unfolds, it becomes more clear that we’re within a small room that appears vaguely European in that, the space is small, but the ceilings are high and there are French Doors that open out onto a terrace overlooking a part of Sydney that is as unfamiliar as any vague memory you’ve ever ventured into before, but as seemingly real as any place you know for certain you’ve been. I’m not entirely sure if this place is real or imagined, and I’m not entirely certain of the man, or the boyfriend, or whoever, but as a character in the narrative, he seems more real than the place. I’m sure I’m confusing nonfiction and fiction, and I’m well aware that at a certain point, memory is as unreal and unreliable as the story recounted between these marks of punctuation. But, these thoughts seem real enough and that’s as good a reason as any to concede to their actuality, and, so, regardless, my mind tells me I’m there, or here, or between both time lines.
In the room’s corner, there is a computer, and at some point I’m playing Where in the World is Carmen San Diego and feeling rushed and annoyed that I have to stop the game to go to an NRL rugby football game, a sport I barely enjoy, but feel the need to enjoy because my friends at school are all avid participants. We’re supposed to see either the Cronulla Sharks, or the Balmain Tigers, neither of whom I care for, and neither of whom I know anything about. I’ve been asked to gather my things and dress myself and to wear something warm because it’s either winter, or a cool Sydney day, of the kind that inevitably stirs a magnificent cool off the crisp harbor water, and either way, the afternoon air will surely dance on my skin when the sun ultimately resigns itself to the evening and lowers into the darkening sky. I’m wearing either jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt or shorts and a sweatshirt and I either have a hat on or I don’t. I’m not at all sure of how or when we got to the game, but at any rate, it wasn’t nearly as cold I remember being told it would be, and at some point in the day, my longer-sleeved outer layer will end up wrapped around my waist in the hopes it won’t be lost should I have chosen to lay it down somewhere at random, which, in another memory I did, and which, in another memory was lost.
When we arrive to the game, there are all the requisite people: fans, ticket agents, concession stands, etc., and the game has maybe just started or is just about to. I’m not sure if we have tickets or not, but it seems almost irrelevant because, when my memory picks up, we are in the stadium standing at field level and the game is in motion somewhere around the 40 meter line. At some point in the second half, I’m standing on the sideline pretending to be really excited and the boyfriend, or guy, or whoever, is smiling at me nodding as if to affirm how fun this is. I think he thinks I’m looking at him, but I’m not. I’m actually looking past him, through him, I’m actually looking at my Mom, and either way, I’m lying to him with my smile, and when I realize this, it feels oddly gratifying, because, the truth is, I’d rather be anywhere else with just Mom: on the ferry out on the water in Sydney; at the beach in Balmoral; Mosman; Double Bay; Darling Harbor; Glebe; Balmain; anywhere. There are old 3x5 pictures of Mom and I from around that time that date somewhere in the late 80’s or early 90’s. They’re beautiful. Just the two of us. Living. Time tells me it was easier, but, I can’t imagine how hard it might have been for Mom. A single mother halfway across the world, no family to lean on, trying to provide, trying to be present, trying to be responsible for a young kid. Damn. It was such an intrinsic part of my reality that it took me far, far too long to understand the strength that must have taken, far too long to step out of that reality and realize the courage it must have taken. I’m so far away from then now, so removed from that reality, that a lot of the time, it feels like it happened to someone else, like I was always here now, and everything that happened before was written in a book long since misplaced, left out on the steps of a townhouse down on Water Street in Balmain.
Later, we’re back in the United States, in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where my mom grew up. We’re in front of her brother Dana’s, my uncle’s, home on Congress Street, the one he lived in for years that adjoined his wife’s, my aunt Liz’s, sister Martha and her husband Larry’s home. It’s the one he lived in when I told him I was an Internationalist that didn’t pledge allegiance to any country or any flag because we were all inhabitants of this great earth all the same, and none of us, no one, were better or greater than anyone else. That was some time in 1991 or 1992 years after this memory dates, but looking back now, it reminds me of the house all the same, gives context to the distance, gives context to the place. Gives context to Dana sitting me down in his living room, kneeling before me and nearly crying when he told me about how my grandfather had fought for that flag I had disrespected. How my grandfather had fought for the freedom I had taken for granted. I cried too. But not because I was wrong, not because what I had said wasn’t inherently right. I cried because I saw the whole of my uncle’s pain in his eyes about a father he barely knew, a distant man that had become a distant memory. I cried because I saw the same events were unfolding in my own life with my biological father, and what it meant to be conflicted about a new stepfather that had entered my life and how that impacted the relationship with the father I had always been told about from Mom in the short years of my early life. I cried because at the time, I was too young to even understand how hard that feeling might hit 20-something years later when at 33 I would finally write them down and the tears that would well would sting with the realization that I hadn’t seen that man who biologically fathered me in some many years and had spoken to him maybe a handful of times since.
But — what is the time line of a memory, anyway? All that emotion — the scent, the color, the soundtrack, the small films that loop in your mind? The emotion that hangs upon a place and a time before and after you’ve visited?
We’re standing outside Dana’s home talking either to, or about, Granny Kay — Katherine, actually, that was her name after all, my maternal grandmother, but we called her Kay for short, and Granny Kay, endearingly. She’s sitting, smiling in repose on a swing. And, she’s not really moving with the motion of the swing, but rather resting her feet upon the ground, experiencing the weight of the physics and the gravity at play. The conversation seems irrelevant in this moment, because the smile on her face exerts every facet of the conversation’s value to the memory. There’s happiness, but it’s curious — anxious, in a way that is unsettling, but yet seems perfectly apt. I say we are talking either to or about her, because, in my mind, I am — I was — talking to her, yet time has come to prove to me that that was, and had to have been, an impossibility. Dana’s home did not have a swing set in the front yard of the home on Congress Street where this memory has been placed. In fact, there was no swing set at Dana’s home at all. I seem to know this, and yet my memory doesn’t. My mind has seemingly confused place, and time, and person. It’s a false reality that I can no longer touch nor shake for the truth, and yet, the emotion the memory evokes is no less real or false than anything else I have experienced in my life. This, it seems, is the asymmetry of conscious I was likely referring to in the sub-heading of this poem, the one which I had written prior to the construction of this sentence.
In the moment, and now after — and upon reflecting on the line of time where this memory exists — we’re discussing the fact that Granny Kay is either not well or that she’s fine, neither of which anyone seems to know for certain. It’s both confusing and perfectly obvious, and regardless, the fact remains that she will die in some years to come, the same year my sister will be born. We’ll live in Australia then, Mom, Dad, and I. It will be 1996, and by that point I’ll either be too young to reconcile her death, or too removed from a reality where her existence bears relevance. Mom will cry for days, if not weeks. And Dad will worry about the stress of her emotion on her pregnant body and the impact that might have upon my sister, unborn in the womb. But, emotion is often impossible to control and her sad tears will continue forsaken. They will be the raw emotion of streaming regret. They will be the raw emotion of years spent away, and realities shifting slowly apart at the rate space itself expands into the future unknown, expands into a place that is just as unreachable as the place from which the memories came.
I often ask myself, what becomes of the narratives? Where do the stories separate from each other? Where do they recede from the parallel into the perpendicular and become a tangent all their own? What becomes of the boyfriend, or guy, or whoever? How to weave his narrative into the fiction? How to further develop that subplot? But…
Time slowly steals our future like the thief it is, gently pulling the fabric of life out from under us in the course of our years. This act of marvel feels slow for us, sure, but in the context of space and time and science, it is akin to the magician yanking a tablecloth and leaving everything upon the table in it’s place. We are the cloth, wrinkled by time, and the glasses and knives and forks and spoons, well, they are us, too, in a way, objects we have touched and marked with the fingerprint of ourselves, left for our kin to dine upon in our memory.
The boyfriend, or guy, or whoever, conjures no resemblance to the man he likely is now, if indeed he even still exists. His was a fleeting gesture in my life, a mere crumb upon that tabletop I mentioned, swept by the waiter between courses. The juncture at which we separated created the tangent I spoke of, and the one where I exist now — the reality I inhabit and awake to each morning — is pressed with the love and warmth and idol of the stepfather—or rather, father, as he has become—mentioned, too, in some paragraphs before. He is a most honest and sincere man fueled by a passion for family, and who remarkably adopted me into his own tangent at some point in each of our time lines when Mom and I were living in that townhouse down on Water Street in Balmain, the one where we left the book I told you about. His introduction to our lives coursed himself, Mom, myself, and later, my sister, into a new timeline of its own, one wherein each of us would coexist in parallel, feasting on the wonder of our existence, and conversing in the echo of each other’s being.
But, of course, I’m inundating you, dear reader. How long can I invest in this hyperbole and analogy without escaping your interest? How long will you endure the density of these words without yourself shifting the weight of your conscious, leaning to the other side as it were, leaning on the asymmetry of conscious I mentioned, like David in his chiseled, contrapposto form, naked with the thoughts of your own sculpted reality?
To that I say, search for the place where emotion is hidden and invite the conversation your own memories evoke. Rifle between the pages of poetry. Peel back the layers of collage. Investigate the brushstroke of painting. There are memories in each of us that surface from time. They are from a place seemingly unknown, and part of a curious revelry, etc.