I was listening to radiolab‘s podcast on memory. Thinking about memories as neural constructions, as bridges. In my case, most often, fragments of bridges.
Or hand-me-down bridges, with their romantic patinas.
When not left to our own imaginations, our stories are told to us. Bit by bit, angle by angle. Point of views, like dreams, blending into one another. We piece details together to create our single narrative, but can never be certain of whose truths we are repeating.
I jumped up and down on the concrete steps of my grandparent’s house, to make the frogs jump out from under them. I was three. I was wearing a white romper. What little hair I had was curled at the ends. The world was black and white then.
I remember a broom. But no one ever contextualised that part of the story for me: the broom is like a random illustration tucked into a children’s book. There is a possibility that only the broom is my own memory. There is also a possibility that the broom is some kind of emotional symbolism that I put there because I saw Cinderella years later, and fantasised about chores and fairy god mothers, while sweeping concrete steps. The broom may have come from the photo, corners tucked into place, beside that photo in an album somewhere: my grandfather sweeping the drive.
Rebuilding bridges with what material is at hand. We are resourceful engineers. We create what is useful, and what is necessary.
I was thirty the first time I went to Rome. I cried when I saw The Sistine Chapel. An acquaintance thought I has having a religious experience. It was so much more complicated than that.
There was the fact that I was there. A bit of trailer park trash whose greatest ambition was to get to New York City someday. I had something akin to survivor’s guilt.
And there was the fact of the chapel itself. Not the one I’d seen in photographs and documentaries. But here, just following the Nippon restoration, was a Sistine Chapel in Marvel Colors.: royal blues and stop-sign reds. It was a metaphor for expectations. An example borrowed nostalgia versus the garishness of reality. Garish because reality can be defined as a bombardment of the senses. The loudness of being in the world.
In Vermont there are covered bridges. When I went there for the first time, in my early forties, I recognised the landscape. I walked through the Children’s Home, where my grandmother grew up. The soft green walls. The now-empty halls. There is a bridge we had built together, between the neurons in my grandmother’s brain, and the neurons in mine. Even now, a bridge that stretches outward from my mind to wherever matter becomes energy.
A not-so-random fact: some of the bridges in Paris are collapsing under the weight of expectations.