Friday, February 01, 2013

Living to tell the tale


There has been a lot of remembering in this blog lately. Dredging up the past from the deepest recesses of the brain. Yesterday I dragged into the light of day the storeroom in my high-school science lab. Which set in train other memories of that dark, somewhat spooky building on 8th Street in Chattanooga. The study hall, where we pasted up the high-school newspaper, the Marion, and the big closet off the study hall that served as the library stacks, which we scoured for anything remotely salacious; even the ribald bits of the Canterbury Tales qualified as a 15-year-old's erotica. The revelations of the boys' shower room. The dark skirts and white blouses of the girls, who sat together on the other side of the classroom, as if the mixing of the sexes by seats or rows was an occasion for sin.

How is it that all that stuff is still in there, like a vast film archive, waiting to be re-spooled in old age? Whoever I am today is the sum of those memories, utterly unique to me, at least in their nuance and totality. Any individual memory may be shared with others who were there, then, like a piece of a jig-saw puzzle, but its only when all the pieces are fitted together that a picture emerges, and every picture is different. Every picture is a human soul.

Gabriel García Márquez's penultimate book was a memoir, Living To Tell the Tale, the first of a projected trilogy, published when García Márquez was about my age. It is a formidable retelling, lush in detail, steeped in sounds and tastes and scents, the most lyrical and exhaustive portrait of a soul I have come across. A kind of immortality.

Some persons' memories, such as García Márquez's, are extraordinarily capacious. By comparison, my store of recollections is paltry, but no less precious, and now at age 76 I find myself spending more and more time curating what remains. Roaming the halls of the old high school -- the bells, the crucifixes, the peeling beige paint, the nuns in their penguin habits, and -- the Periodic Table of the Elements on the wall of the science lab, the one splash of vivid color in that otherwise drab building, beckoning me to another place.

Are my memories accurate? Doesn't matter. They are not required as evidence in a court of law. They are me.