Memory

 photo by  Margaret Durow

The word they used to describe my memory was photographic. It was seen to be a tapestry on which people, names, images, dates, places, sensations, words, expressions, even remote things like attires and appearances were accessed by my mind from far away and long ago, and imprinted confidently and meticulously. I recited poems spanning ten pages after reading them twice, and I remembered what a friend’s mom wore on his sixth birthday, and recounted it on his sixteenth. I remembered letters my boyfriend wrote to me, word by word, long after we were married, and I remembered every detail of becoming and being a first-time mother, like it was a story I was penning. Indeed, my life was a story in my mind, lived, felt, and remembered in all its magnificent mundaneness, its cosmic minuteness, its textured complexity. My photographic memory never let it slip away even for a moment, and as I could touch my past as definitively as I lived in the present, I knew the future that awaited me would be a similarly tangible, tactile dream, as long as my mind, and my memory, were alive.

Then I lost my daughter. My mind, and my memory, died with her. And my life became a tangible, tactile nightmare.

During Raahi’s grueling ten-week stay at the hospital for her surgeries and slow recovery, my memory captured details I would live by, while I was away from her. I would walk back from the NICU at night, through the lit corridors of a sterile world so far away from the anticipated one I had inhabited while pregnant with her. I grasped at every picture, every light, and I remembered the details of her room over and over again. The pungent smell of medications, the gentle hush of nurse’s voices, the silently changing numbers on monitors. I watched paint dry as I held and rocked my baby, absorbing her smell, the touch of her skin on mine, the sound of her gentle breath, her beautiful eyes looking at me, looking into me.

My memory was at its chronicling best, as it wove a very different tapestry of the images, sounds and tastes of my daughter’s first weeks, into my overflowing mind. Every strand of my being lay exposed to the quiet and intense experience in the NICU, and my mind made sure I got all of it in. The names of the doctors, nurses and staff, the sigh and anxiety of parents whose babies stayed, the joyous smile of parents as they took their baby home.

I have always trusted my memory to not only record what happened in my life, but also what I felt about it. I am acutely metaanalytic, harboring thoughts about what I think, and feelings about what I feel. I also wrote extensively, like a compulsive chronicler, as I sometimes felt that even my memory was not enough to conserve all that living for posterity.

My mind held on, weakened, but persistent, after Raahi came home. We were moving in four days, and I had errands to run and last-minute preparations had to be made. I remember how flustered I was, trying to make her as comfortable as possible, with her feeding tube and pole, her medications. And if I try very hard and allow my mind to go there, I remember how I did not hold her enough, feeling overwhelmed if she cried, trying to find an alternative to soothe her, as I readied her life and tried to settle her in it. I remember taking her to the pediatrician, I remember him saying everything was “smack in the middle of normal.”

I remember the last night of her life, not knowing it would be the last night. I remember holding her lifeless body the next morning, I remember how pale and cold it was. I remember my husband driving her in a new car we had bought when she came, to the cemetery. I remember sitting on the porch and not being able to be a part of anything that day. As a few friends and relatives piled into the car to go to our hotel later, I remember being made to sit in the middle of the back seat where until the previous day her car seat was.

This is where my memory begins to fade.

Wanting, what I now believe was the protection of my sanity, my mind started uprooting entire events and details of Raahi's hospital stay, as I could not bear to remember the nuances, grief sweeping over me like a forceful mudslide, through me like a bolt of lightning. Everything was covered by a dark and opaque pall of grief, it buried every bit of light, quashed every flutter of movement, destroyed, numbed and obliterated all that came before, burning and charring what was happening into ashes. Sometimes it struck, other times it drowned, and often it plain paralyzed. My mind lay cold like a reptile at its feet, my memory the lifeless skin it had shed, crinkled and dilapidated, never to come alive or be about life again. Its rich tapestry was eroded, and since it could not be selective about what stayed and what disappeared into an abyss of nothingness, it erased indiscriminately.

My memory wanted to forget death, and with it, it had to forget life too.

And so I sit here, my mind churning out images of a little dusky girl, light as a feather with a soul-touching gaze, a few little fingers, strands of black hair, skin as soft as dew, her beautiful little face holding a universe of unlived moments, unfulfilled dreams. There is no story, no promise, no direction, no pattern, as broken images appear in my mind’s eye, emerging from, and then swallowed back into, a dark, empty crevice. I do not remember where I came from, I don’t know where I have to go. I often embarrass myself by asking friends questions about events I have shared with them myself, and I thank my husband for discovering a great Mexican restaurant downtown that he later tells me we have visited three times before. I no longer remember dates, names, conversations, or what happened when, let alone why. I do not write much, I let things fly away, float like an airy dream, no longer feeling the need to capture or preserve them.

Life is a bubble, and it has burst into a million disjointed, meaningless, evaporating pieces.

This mind is now a ruinous, dilapidated desert of emptiness and forgetfulness, and feelings about what happened or what is happening are not embedded in it as inevitably as before. It is as though my memory refuses to be about anything else, since it has unfairly and meaninglessly been asked to hold and replay Raahi’s brutally brief past, and merge itself, impossibly, with the imagination of her infinite future.

The rest can all drift away.

What part of your mind, and your memory, has changed after the loss of your child(ren)? What do you remember about yourself and your life before your loss(es), and what have you forgotten? What do you remember about your baby(ies) and yourself with them?