I start a lot of stories with—I don’t know if this actually happened.
That’s a side effect of having a shitty memory, one ill-suited to record the goings on of a childhood spent mostly alone, mostly outdoors.
There’s more to it, of course. I’m sure they’ll come out with a study (if they haven’t already) linking memory to mood. I’m sure a happier person remembers more than a sad person, if only because all sad days blend together to form one long streak of grey.
When I was younger—and, OK, even now—I dreamt of a machine that allowed you to step back into your past. I wrote an entire novel about a girl who lost control of her memories, forced to relive them and relive them until the repetition drove her mad. I dreamt of a movie screen that could play back the best days of your life: a surprise birthday party, the first time somebody told you they loved you, your last day of work at the shittiest, shittiest job.
My grandmother has dementia. This is important to me because it’s genetic, maybe. I don’t actually know this. I’m just guessing. Everything is genetic, isn’t it?
In the recent days of nursing home life my grandmother has become suddenly convinced someone is going to steal her pocketbook. She’s always had this fear but it’s worse now and she takes it everywhere she goes. She clutches it against her walker like some folks here clutch their oxygen tanks and saline drips. In her room, it goes into a bedside table and every few seconds I see her looking at it to make sure the door’s still closed.
My grandmother has nothing in her purse. Used tissues, an expired driver’s license.
It’s become something else to her, obviously. Something more. What isn’t there is more important that what is. Out of all the things she’s lost along the way, this one thing has stayed with her: don’t forget your purse. Hold onto your purse. Don’t let anybody steal your purse.
It makes me wonder what will stay with me once everything else has gone.
photographs taken in Venice, California.