January 23, 2003

Recently, this memory has started coming to me every time I'm washing dishes. I can only assume that I was washing dishes when it first occurred as well.

Fall, 1994, 15 years old

I'm (presumably) washing dishes at my home in SmallTown. It's a weekend night, and I'm sure I don't have any real plans - sophomore year of high school generally involved nights out at the movies or the bowling alley with my brother and his friends or nothing at all. The phone rings, and it's KuteJock, a guy one year ahead of me in school. KuteJock and I are friends in a weird sort of way. We have a few classes together, and he flirts with me in the same teasing way he flirts with most girls. He is definitely cute and pretty popular, as much as anyone can be at such a small school. I guess we must have talked on the phone a few times before, because I don't remember being shocked at having him on the line.

He invites me to go to a movie with him in Mediumville, the "city" closest to SmallTown, and I ask him to hang on so I can check with my parents. My hand over the mouthpiece, I tell them the situation and get their permission, but not before my mom asks if he even has a car to drive to Mediumville. I tell her, "Of course he does, a little Chevette," and perk my way back onto the phone. KuteJock immediately corrects me by saying he has a Dodge Horizon, NOT a Chevette. (At the time, I figured he was nitpicking, but now that I've actually seen a Chevette, I feel like I owe him an apology.)

Plans are made, KuteJock picks me up (I don't think he comes to the door, but I probably don't give him the chance), and we go to the movie. I haven't the slightest idea now what we saw. But halfway through the movie, I become aware of a vibe that may indicate that KuteJock is thinking about something other than the movie. I am petrified, and I distinctly remember that feeling of gluing my eyes to the screen and refusing to look in his direction. I'm not sure exactly what I think he might "try," but it could run the gamut from the ol' arm-around to the embarrassment of an attempted kiss. We make it through the flick with no incident, and I have no other memories of the night itself.

But here's the thing that makes me laugh now as I look back on what sounds like such a stereotypical high school experience. It did not occur to me until years later that I was on a date that night. How I missed that, I'll never know. What concealed it from me? The ever sneaky phone call ahead of time? The extraordinary picking me up at my house? The unorthodox movie theater location?

The truth is, I had simply grown so used to being "the smart kid" in our town and school (see my previous entry) that I was completely incapable of thinking of myself as "date" material. It wasn't low self-esteem, really. It was just acceptance of my space in the social scheme of SmallTown. By sophomore year, however, I was starting to blossom a little more physically, and I was never completely out of touch with the "popular" group. I can only imagine what poor KuteJock must have thought when I refused to look him in the eye, gave him thanks and a nice, big hug when he dropped me off, and then headed back to school on Monday without a second thought to calling him again or seeking him out in the hall.

I can only imagine what my parents thought as well, sending their little girl off on her first date. I wonder if they realized that my breezy confidence was due to my complete obliviousness.

It makes me a little sad now that I was so oblivious, because a date with KuteJock is something that I should have reveled in, at least a little. He wasn't in love, or even interested in "going steady" (or whatever we were calling it at the time). Nevertheless, pulling a date with KuteJock was a bit of a coup for a girl like me. And I think it represented a subtle change in my social status that, true to form, I didn't really recognize until after I was out of high school. It's too bad - it might have been fun to have lived in that moment.

January 22, 2003

This memory hit me today, and I felt compelled to put it down, not because I might forget it - I don't think I ever will - but because I have no idea what has happened to the protagonist in it, and I hope that he's made a good life for himself.

First Weekend in June, 1990, 11 years old

Two things you should know for context:

First - When I was in elementary and middle school, I went to the national spelling bee four years in a row. It wasn't really that big of a feat, coming from my small area, but I was the first one to go from my town, and - particularly the first year - a huge deal was made out of it. That first year, I headed up to D.C., riding this ridiculous wave of hype, and managed to go out on my very first word.

Second - My hometown holds a festival every year, during the first weekend in June. It started as a slightly larger version of our standard First Saturday flea market, and has since grown into a a weekend of children's shows, musical acts, fairground-type rides, and the like. In a town as small as my hometown, this constitutes a very big deal.

It must be Sunday, because I have just gotten back from my first-ever week of spelling bee activities in D.C. (Much to the bee's credit, the actual competition only takes up two days of the week. The rest of the time is spent in fun social activities and outings with all the other participants and their families.) I've gone out on my very first word, and while I'm over the initial upset about that, I'm not sure what the folks back at school will think. Inflated by big-fish-small-pond syndrome, my reputation is that of an almost-prodigy, though college would later prove that to be an extreme exaggeration. How to explain to kids and teachers alike my lightning-quick exit?

Having missed the first day of our town festival while traveling home from D.C., I'm at the park - this was back when the festival was held at the old park - taking in some kind of puppet or magic show. The show is being held on the concrete stage that rested on the side of the park's steep hill, with logs-for-seats rising up the side of the hill, amphitheater-style. Some kids from my class are there, and of course they ask about the bee. I tell them the truth, trying to be nonchalant, but cringing at my obvious failure. And then Monty - a kid I've known since kindergarten, but only through school, never the smartest or the best behaved or the funniest, but always somehow rising a little above the boys of his peer group - says, "It's okay. You did really good just to get to go."

It was the obvious polite response - one I would hear repeatedly from myriad adults over the following weeks - but such a perceptive and compassionate one coming from the mouth of a ten-year-old boy. Over and over, it had been drilled into me (and god, probably my classmates) that I was so smart and gifted and that I was going to go up to Washington and blow the competition away. When it didn't happen, I had to work to understand it myself, and I didn't really expect the other kids to. I figured on backlash, not entirely undeserved. But Monty's was the first reaction I got, and I was just so relieved. Instead of laughing or making fun of me after all that build-up, he comforted me. It sounds so small, but it didn't seem that way at the time, and it doesn't seem that way to me now, considering that it came from a fifth-grader.

All of which leads me to wonder whatever happened to Monty. He was of a demographic (black, male, from a single-parent household) that didn't always get the best breaks in my small southern town. I remember him in high school as a grown-up version of his elementary school self - a little smarter, a little more polite, a little more committed to school than a lot of the guys in my class. But also with a temper, and a group of friends that wasn't always conducive to post-high-school success. There were a number of guys like Monty, and keeping them from falling through the cracks was, I'm sure, a driving motivation for many of my teachers. But it wasn't always easy - for every one that went into the military, or pursued mechanical drawing at the local community college, there were two more who faltered through the end of high school into no future at all.

Which path did Monty take? Infuriatingly, I can't even remember for sure if he graduated with my class. (This is particularly ridiculous because, by graduation, my class included less than 70 people.) A web search on his (unusual) full name turns up nothing. Enough questions around my town might eventually provide some sort of answer. But I'm afraid of hearing that his potential has been squandered, that he wasn't able to rise above. And I'm doubly afraid of hearing something and finding myself judging him. Because that's exactly what he didn't do to me that day in the park. Instead, perhaps I'll just remember what a good person he was in that moment and hope he remains so today.

January 09, 2003

I feel obligated to start this thing off with an entry about my earliest memory. But I'll be honest with you - I'm not really sure what that is. In recent years, I have decided that a very vague memory which I've always held on to for completely unfathomable reasons must, in fact, be my "earliest." Why else would it have stuck with me all these years? Regardless, it'll do to kick things off.

Summer, 1982, 3 years old
(Two ground rules that will apply to this and all future entries: All Names are Changed, and All Dates are Approximate. Keep 'em in mind.)

I'm on the porch at the house two doors down from mine. This is the house of the O'Neighbors, and in particular, their daughter Corn. Corn is exactly six months older than me, although this is something the two of us won't figure out until years later. At this point in my life, Corn is my best friend, mainly because I have been babysat by her mother since I was old enough to be away from mine. Unfortunately, right around this time, Corn and her family are getting ready to move to the other side of the state. (I remember very little about the whole tragic event, but, amazingly, Corn and I managed to stay friends for the next twelve years, visiting each other's houses every single summer until we hit high school.)

On the porch with me are Corn and her dad, The Marine. (He's not really a Marine. He's a lawyer. But he served some time in the military when he was younger, and never lost the demeanor or the buzz cut. Nevertheless, he's a very nice man.) Something in the memory tells me this happened while the O'Neighbors were in the process of actually moving out of their house - I couldn't tell you if that's actually the truth. Something else tells me that Corn and I are each wearing a cute little Sunday dress, complete with smocking, and T-strap Mary Janes - I'm almost certain that's not true, because that image is stolen directly from an unrelated picture of Corn and me in a family photo album.

So, with all this build-up, what is the actual memory? It's The Marine, crouching with us on the concrete porch, up against the brick house, just under the porch swing, picking up a Daddy-Long-Legs spider by one of its legs. He's showing Corn and me that this kind of spider isn't one to be afraid of. And he almost makes it seem like he is picking up a kitten or puppy - a tiny, delicate pet.

And that's it - that's the whole memory. In fact, it's stuck in my head less as something that happened and more as tableau that I was a part of. It's odd that such a prosaic little moment would stay with me, but it has. It has always been a part of my impression of The Marine, and I have never been able to kill a Daddy-Long-Legs. How could I, when obviously the right thing to do is pick him up by the leg and move him out of harm's way?

January 07, 2003

Mnemosyne was the ancient Greek goddess of memory. From her name, we get the English words "mnemonic" (a tool for triggering memory) and "amnesia" (the loss of memory). Mnemosyne was also mother to the Muses, the goddesses of inspiration, learning, and the arts.

I could parlay that information into some sort of high-minded discourse that justifies the creation of this blog. And, as a matter of fact, I did - in my first entry, which I left up for exactly twenty-four hours before I couldn't stand to look at it anymore. It has now disappeared into the ether, so much the better for all of us.

I'm keeping my alias as Mnemosyne, though, because I like it, pretentious or not. And I (secondarily) majored in Classical Studies in college, so that gives me some sense of entitlement. It's not like I get to use that major for anything else.

I'm twenty-three years old, struggling through that post-college crisis of identity. In the course of avoiding thoughts about the future, I've been thinking a lot about the past. I think it's related to the realization that where I grew up isn't really "home" anymore. Not an original realization, I know, but it affects me nonetheless. Maybe it's because I spent my entire childhood and adolescence in the same small town, and now I live far away from it. Maybe that makes me feel that, for the first time, a part of my life is really over and gone. Whatever the reason, I've been rediscovering a lot of old memories recently, and it's been fun. I can compare it to nothing so much as digging through an old drawer and finding forgotten thing after forgotten thing - and being amazed that you can recall so much detail about each, once your memory is prompted.

It's got me worried, though - if I don't dig often enough and deep enough, what kinds of moments and stories and emotions will I lose forever? I've always had a prodigious ability to forget things - names, faces, appointments for important job interviews, you name it. What if, in a few more years, some of the things I enjoy stumbling over in the junk drawer of my memory disappear? Will I even know they're gone? Maybe not, but I'll have lost something anyway. At the very least, so many of these little memories make me smile. More importantly, they give me a sense of my own history - of the time that I have passed and the ways that it has (or hasn't) changed me.

So MNEMON is to be a record of these memories. There won't be any chronological order to them, as I'll mostly be writing about the first vivid memory I can dig up each day. I'm hoping that by putting these moments down in writing, I'll preserve them against my decaying powers of recall and create a handy catalogue of stories with which to bore my grandkids some day. Is this an almost entirely self-indulgent exercise? Absolutely. Will it provide some entertainment value for you, the random blog surfer? Well, I hope so, though I'm not betting the farm on it. It is what it is, and that's that.

With that caveat, and an apology to L.L. Cool J, let's do this, Brutus.