I have a photographic memory. I know what you’re thinking, ‘So?’ So memories leave an imprint on my heart in a way unlike others. I can put myself in a time and a space and remember exactly what I was wearing, how I was feeling, and the facial expressions of my company. I can put myself in my own shoes, time-removed, quite literally.
For example, I was wearing blue boat shoes with a green ribbon the day I said good-bye to my first love as we embraced in a train station holding each other for a few minutes longer than we should have, acknowledging we had to go our separate ways yet we did not want to. We held each other crying and I can distinctly feel and re-live the moment I pressed my face into his shoulder a little harder and let out a sob. “I love you,” he said, “I will always love you. I hope you know that.” I remember that day cause it was the day I learned a necessary lesson – time and circumstance DO matter. Love isn’t always enough in the face of competing cities, universities, and lifestyles.
I can recall moods and atmospheres as well. The last time I ever saw my father alive I sat in a very grey waiting room in the hospital. I mean literally – the walls were grey and the lighting low in a dingy sort of way, ambient of the mood – sombre. I can feel the puzzle pieces I played over and over in my hands attempting to make sense of a picture I did not understand. I feverishly mashed puzzle pieces together, avoiding the puzzle piece about to be missing from my heart, rotting in a hospital bed across the hall.
I remember phrases, full sentences spoken by me and other’s but more so if they’re memorable. I stood at the end of my father’s hospital bed as he screamed the last statement I allowed him to say to me, “Just cut them off! They’re useless! Just fucking cut them off!” He stared at me imploringly, daring me to remove the now dead weight he was carrying as the cancer had finally taken his mobility – his legs were useless to him now.
This memory stings more than others because it is humbling. It’s one of several instances where I decided to walk away. I left my father screaming at me, dying in a hospital bed when he needed me most. This was my harshest lesson in understanding my cowardice. People consistently tell me how strong I am for what I have faced and overcome but you have to be when you can viscerally relive the moment you decided to quit yourself. When the pain of my memories became too much, certain ones that tortured me and played on loop in my mind, I tried to join my father of my own volition.
That was not my choice to make. I can recognize that now. When memories of your shortcomings take the form of photographs, it’s harder to deny the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy which bubble over as a result.
Songs take on a mystical power and trigger the camera in my mind firing out snapshots of my past like rapid fire. “Tell me you ain’t six feet under. And tell me that you comin’ back and you just took a break. Maybe I blamed you for everything, that was my mistake In hindsight, I loved your rawness and I loved your edge ‘Cause it was you who talked me down from jumpin’ off the ledge” are lyrics by Nicki Minaj that start a parade in my brain of versions of myself.
I buried my past self six feet under a long time ago. I can take self-loathing to the extreme and I misunderstood her kindness as weak. At one point I became a hardened version of myself, cold on the exterior and apathetic inside leaving a trail of destruction in my disillusioned state. It took many versions of myself, several break downs, and quite honestly a couple years of therapy to grow into the more well rounded version of myself today. I like to think now I’ve taken the best part of my old selves and moulded them into a new whole one, a little less broken.
If my father screamed at me today, challenging me from that hospital bed, I’d walk from the foot of his bed to beside his hand and hold it. I’d say something sweet like, “you may not have the use of your legs anymore, but you will always have me. I’m here for you and I love you.” The sad thing is I rarely said those words back to him when he was alive, “I love you.” I’ve always been afraid and was with even my own father of being vulnerable.
“I want you to know Dad, I’m working on that.”
R.I.P Robin Gushue,
All My Love,