The first memory I have is of falling into a fishpond at four years old. Splash into darkness, a two-second lifetime, hurried voices, a blanket, big soothing arms.
It surfaced the other day when I was walking through the animal department at Jardin Fleuri and I got a whiff of soggy fish flakes, and whoosh I was back.
Blood, bones and memories, us humans are, it’s mad. We breathe and move and erect our own memory museums to house the running tabs of shitty and pretty happenings, which we file into whatever department seems fitting. In we wander, polishing them from time to time to reveal a luster that perhaps never was, or we pay them a visit with a slight tilt of the head. We might leave them be too, and unexpectedly they surface.
Any first happenings - first kiss, first time we nearly drowned, first period, first cigarette, our child’s first words, they’re in an airy space and they rarely budge. We always know how to find them. Same goes for cute childhood memories, the untouchables, the ones in the room with the red sofa. The painful childhood snippets only a shrink can really dig up and make sense of, so they’ll probably be tucked behind a family portrait and poke out from time to time. Some memories don’t even have a home. They bounce off the walls and we trip over them, on our way through to Adult Pillars, with its sub-departments that endlessly morph, opposite the room for Little Things. I like the room for Little Things.
I’m having trouble with my sub-department of Marriage at the moment because since our separation they’ve had the renovation blokes in and there are ladders and pots everywhere. Almost every day, a gruff voice in my ear shouts “where do you want this one, love?”, and I don’t answer.
I asked help from Google the other week. “What to do with memories”, I typed. The daft search-engine-oracle suggested I frame them. It had gone and mixed memories with mementos. Its advice was to frame significant ones, sift through the rest, chuck out, with an underlying objective to clamp down on clutter. It got me thinking. What if we did the same for memories as Google advises us to do for mementos?
I once heard of the Death Bear. A guy from New York who comes to your house after you’ve broken up with someone. He comes with his hoodie and his bear mask and his rucksack to clear out the stuff that reminds you of your ex. Bits of your lives together that you don’t want to have to look at all the time because it’s keeping you immobile. The pink plectrum, the You’re Irreplaceable bracelet, the stupid piece of driftwood. The Death Bear scoops these up and pops them in his rucksack and walks back to his cave. You never see him again.
So I thought about conjuring up my own Death Bear. And with his bear mask and rucksack he’d step into my memory and do his thing. I’d give him a map, tell him where to go. Along the corridor to the right, just past Dreams. He’d have to be careful. Wouldn’t want him yanking out all sorts, like the time my ex did a 9 out of 10 burp at Brest Airport. I like that one.
And he’d have to take his boots off.
“I need you to guide me” he’d say.
“Well there’s quite a lot here, you know…”
“I thought that was your job!”
He’d give me a blank stare which is always blank because of his bear mask.
“Can’t you just clear up a bit?”
He’d start rummaging and huffing and mumbling something sardonic behind his black bear lips and so I’d ask him to step away from my memories and fuck off.
“Can’t”, he’d say, and he’d sniff and pop the top off of his graffiti can.
Faced with the idea of having a six-foot New Yorker make urban art of my memories, I’d devise a plan which would involve having him follow me through the corridors all the way to the Stupidest Ideas department and I’d lob a chunk of salmon in and he’d run after it and I’d leave him there, right next to that time when I was 14 and thought I could change a gas canister and ended up setting fire to the hut.
The Death Bear is gone and I’m doing the renovation work myself now. With dungarees and determination I’ve been boxing a few bits and ParcelForce are picking them up in the New Year. I’ve been framing though, particularly the moments with the kids in, and I’ve shifted them to the Department of Little Things. They look lovely.
I’ve renamed the Marriage Department too. Just need to choose the right font.