The worst part is I know I’ve forgotten. I could handle it if I had no idea what I was missing, if I could just bumble along clueless. But I get this feeling sometimes, like stepping on a tack, only in my mind. I know I’ve forgotten something, but I don’t know what it is.
I remember faces just fine. I look at Peter’s face as we drink tea in the kitchen and I know he’s Peter, but I don’t remember holding him in a pool with his little life jacket when he was first learning to swim. I don’t remember that now, even as he tells me about it. I can picture myself in the water, feel the wetness up to my bellybutton, the impossible lightness of Peter’s buoyant body, but none of that is mine. It’s his. What I have is just an echo of what he told me and even what he tells me isn’t the real thing; it’s an echo too. He would have been too young to remember anything but a flash, and this is exactly what he admits after telling the story.
He says he remembers slapping the water in front of him, straining his neck back to keep the spray out of his eyes, just a second or two and then—poof!—gone. I ask him who told him the rest and he looks at me and the look makes me cry.
I told him. Of course I did.
What I have, what I saw in that moment, that water, that light, isn’t even an echo. It’s an echo of an echo, something I sent out into the world years ago and is now coming back.
Peter doesn’t ask me why I’m crying, he just rubs my back while I bend over. He’s given up trying to make me feel better, ask me what’s wrong, bring it out, chase it away, those annoying things you can’t stand when someone’s doing them but realize, when someone stops doing them, that they make you human. He knows he doesn’t understand what upsets me and he has given up trying to understand, which upsets me even more.
And even this moment will just turn into an echo, cracking and deteriorating as it bounces off walls and crashes around. The next time we see it, we won’t recognize it, but we will keep it because it’s all we have.
Peter wears a name tag when he comes over, puts name tags on all his children. I know they’re his children because it says so on their name tags, in bigger letters than their actual names. I wonder if this is deliberate — although I know it’s probably not — if Kyle knows things as cold and impersonal as “your granddaughter” or “your (second) grandson” mean more to me than the names they answer to when they leave this house and go out into the real world, the world of people for whom they don’t vanish every time they leave the room.
I cry in front of his kids sometimes, when I’m hit by these little flashes of insight, as fleeting as their names. They still tug on my leg and try to console me. They think it’s like when their mother (or maybe even their father) cries, something that’s within the realm of what they can understand and soothe. Their father shoos them away, tells them not to bug me, but really it’s one of the best things I have right now. I look down at their sad, compassionate eyes and forget—forget about the fact that I’m always forgetting.
About the writer:
Mason Hanrahan is an Ottawa-based writer currently working as a freelance writer-editor. He placed second twice in the prose category of the Carleton University Writing Competition. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and is currently working on a novel.
Image: “‘Why does she have wings? So she can fly.’ ~ Sarah Dessen.” Digital image by William Zuback. Zuback has a BA in photography from Brooks Institute of Photography. His home studio is called BacktotheZu. Studios. @williamzubackphotographs