My baby turns 13 this week and I’m remembering less and less of the days that comprise those remarkable years. This is a little something about the memories we learn to hold on to and the ones we’re helpless to watch fade away.
To hear me tell it now you’d think my wife and I were explorers, Magellan or Cortez, bravely going where no one had gone before.
Maybe that’s a human reflex as distance separates us from the events we try to recall. Maybe our natural instinct, not quite for physical survival but for preservation of our legacies, is to grow a story like we have a child, two children, seeds we tenderly slid into the soil then watched bloom after a passage of considerable time.
Those stories, our stories, jut up in stature in the absence of a spectrum of authentic memories needed color in the granular details, like a gloriously restored black and white feature film suddenly made technicolor. We become tourists on holiday, speaking our native tongue increasingly louder in hopes that the rise in volume will serve as the stone that will break through the barriers of language — flailing about desperately to keep it, and ourselves, together in a strange new place.
We cope with missing information as best we can, fumbling around in the night for shapes we recognize but banging our knee and stubbing our toe anyway. The mind doesn’t play tricks, she claims easy victories without such devilish help.
In truth, it was a quick up and down from Philly to Providence, her first flight, nothing grand about it really, but now I’m not even certain of that because in my minds eye she’s older than the 5 months I know was her age on that virgin trek. It’s a dick move but I have know, post haste, so I roll to my right and wake my wife who sleeps, or, well, was sleeping, beside me.
She’s younger, she remembers better these kinds of things, and yes, I’ve got it wrong. I’m combining two facts into one new fiction in writing a choose your own adventure book in my head about a vacation more than a decade ago, about a little girl with a red plush Elmo, pudgy knees, a toothy smile wider than the horizon, and the waist high airport car rental desk she once sat upon. These are some of the pictures I see when I close my eyes but as I get older and she grows up, the periphery is vanishing as if someone is sliding up the scale of a vignette filter on a once perfectly edited and crisp cell phone photo. What’s left is a learned memory of a fraction of the original.
The saddest part of both getting old and growing up is losing the ability to hear the sound of their tiny voices when hungry, of splashing in the tub and to see the shape of the rubber toys they loved best while doing so, the feeling of being hugged by a child who adores and admires you differently than she does today, with miniature, fleshy arms. Her miniature arms.
What’s happening now is not a stunning revelation, it is nothing special. We all get old and the past gets only further away. But as my grip on my own history loosens, I’m saddened to be a witness of the sounds, the feels, the smells, and the sights of my babies slipping through the cracks.
My baby turns 13 this week and some of the precious moments from her life that I promised myself would stay with me forever are no longer here.