Memory is intrusive. And I am constantly surprised by it. Even the bad memories, perhaps especially the bad ones, are interesting. Brain food.
As you’ve read here before, I think of memory as a frequency (a channel), something we have tuned in—consciously or not—or something we want to tune out. Do you want to remember how your ex used to roll his eyes when you made a bad joke—when you see your husband grimace at the same thing? Or how your mother’s voice snapped when you and your brother got too loud—and then there you are, your voice raised just a little too much at your own kids or your partner…and you hear your mother’s voice, thirty years ago, but it’s coming out of your mouth? Then again, maybe you do want to remember. You can’t have the present without the past. How boring it would be if everything had gone without a hitch. (Think of The Truman Show, all bland, perky, and bright—not for me. Sure, ease is nice, but so is something to think about, chew over, reconcile or solve.)
One way or another, my father’s suicide—what preceded it, what came after—interplays with most of my memories. As anyone intimate with suicide knows, whether the act is a surprise or not, it re-casts event after event, memory after memory. And suicide is not unique in this.
Find out about a lover’s affair, about a friend’s divorce, any sudden change or loss, and you wonder about what detail or secret, what mystery you missed. The life is rewritten; you want to read it again, look for subtext, or even figure out a way to write it over. But where would you start?
This is one of the questions COUNTRIES OF LOST THINGS circles around. Francesca wonders, if my parents might divorce, what does that mean about their marriage, what does it mean about mine? She follows Dani, trying to figure out answers to a question she hasn’t even found. Hasn’t yet translated—from urge or feeling into words. David is doing the same thing as he longs for lost ancestors, mourns his mother in a new way, but why? Because he has a new son? Because he is trying to figure out what the half-fictional character in his new book has lost? He doesn’t know. People are driven by unanalyzed needs, by longing (for what’s gone, for what awaits), by selfishness, by love, by curiosity, by memory. By fate too? Or is fate just coincidence in a different guise? By all of it—a wonderful, wondrous mess.
Really, each day is a new start of sorts. But then, being human, we look for all of the starts that came before, and the paths that took us from there to here, and then from here to there.