August 2012

Memory Is A Subjective Matter, Part Two

by Lori Dwyer on August 30, 2012 · 4 comments

I add it up in my mind right now and I’m slightly horrified– I went a whole year without mentioning that memory to him. Twelve whole months I just assumed it was safe, never once turned the soil on it to let in the sunshine and fresh air.

So how can I be surprised when the song happened to come on the TV the other day and I smile and say “Look, Chops, it’s the Dino Stomp!” and he looks at me blankly, without the foggiest idea of what I’m talking about? I can’t be, not at all.

I break my own heart and kick myself over and over as I stand in shock, my mind echoing with a empty clang, over and over ‘He has forgotten….’. The consequences of the are startling, terrifying… Forgotten is forever. A memory, once it’s gone… it’s difficult to bring it back.

There are days when I wish I could crawl into my child’s mind and peer around it with a flashlight. Open all the drawers and cupboards, tidy things that need to be straightened, look out through his eyes and see the world the way he does. And I’d go to the filing cabinet tucked away in a corner and open it to ‘Daddy’, and search its contents thoroughly to see just what it holds.

I want to know how my little boy remembers of the man who was his best mate, his hero. I want to see how much of it is truth and how much legend, check in on that every few years from now until… forever, I guess. Isn’t that what mothers do better than anyone, that forever thing?

I see occasional anomalies between what my little boy remembers and what the truth is. He remembers his dad’s orange car, but not that we got rid of it months before he died. He remembers that Tony was angry sometimes, but also remembers that mummy and daddy used to kiss and hug… I can’t help but wonder if one cancels out the other. He remembers going to swimming lessons but has the pool he attended confused with another Tony occasionally took him too. And while a year ago he remembered swimming in the Purple backyard spa with his dad, I think that memory may have extinguished itself too, leaving a dark space and a the thick nostalgic smell of candle wax in the air.

My son tells me a few days ago that “Daddy’s don’t smoke” and the desicion I have to make surprises me. Do I correct him with the truth, or let the much healthier impression he has slide and become truth in his mind?

I do what I always do, when I don’t know what to do. I err on the side of the truth. Well, most daddy’s don’t smoke, but yours did. He thought it was very yucky though, and he was trying to stop.

Tiny little Lego building blocks of all shapes and colors and sizes, stacked on top of one another to create a picture of a man who was not perfect but was a good person, and loved his children very much. Hoping the foundations are strong enough so the whole thing doesn’t topple. Double checking and crossing my fingers that I haven’t missed bits, left gaping holes where vibrant color should be.

I find a gruesome fascination in how very differently my children will remember their father in comparison to the man I remember. I wish I could spool all these memories I hold– my husband feeding our one year old son chocolate cake for breakfast, or whispering to his day-old daughter “You’re not going to date any football players, are you darlin’?”– onto a film, a disk, something so they can be played back in all their richness for my children, the people who will need them the most, over and over again.

Reminiscing, telling my children stories of their dad…. it’s a cold comfort. They take the stories I tell, the words I say, and mold them with their own memories, their own thoughts… and there lies the potential loophole for inaccuracies.

I remind myself that, really, it only matters so much. Is a genuine memory of their father any better than my children’s own little minds creating a hero or a villain for them? It has to be, surely– reality’s a bitch, but it’s always that little bit more palatable than lies, omissions or half truths. Especially when what’s at stake is so huge.

I’m creating memories for my children of their father, lest they are too young to keep them for themselves. I fill big holes with stories and anecdotes and I feel the chilly breeze that comes though them– the absence of so many of his mates to help build this picture as it should be. I support my fragile reminiscing with photos that seemed to be plenty at that time, but now are an unspeakably small amount of visual proof.

But I found something a few days ago, on the external hard drive I’d bought and booted in those hazy six months in Paradise. I thought I’d lost the footage from Tony’s mobile phone when I threw it out, not realizing until days later the travesty I’d committed.

I was wrong. Video footage, files of video footage from my husband’s mobile phone, hidden in the digital depths of my hard drive. I plan to watch it, to sync it and burn it onto a disc for my children.

I just haven’t had the courage to open the files yet.

post signature


Memory Is A Subjective Matter, Part One

by Lori Dwyer on August 29, 2012 · 4 comments

Memories are such subjective things. We alter and taint them, often to our own advantage. The earlier the experience that created the memory or the deeper into your childhood you’re reminiscing over, the more the memory is likely to be impeded by years worth of experience and impressions.

I have two memories from when I was very young. One I’m almost positive is real and as correct as the memories of an almost two year old can be. I only feel that strongly in my conviction because my mother listened in amazement as I recounted details of her and I creeping into the kitchen of the house I only lived in until I was two. I can remember the structure, color and set up of that house while few photos of it exist, especially of the interior. I remember how the kitchen looked, lit by the cold light of the refrigerator as my mum and I conspired to eat a piece of birthday cake I’d bought home from a party that day before my dad, a compulsive midnight snacker, got to it first.

Why I remember that so distinctly, I’m not sure. Quite possibly the effect of that blue light haloing from the open fridge door, changing a kitchen I saw every day into an entirely different place. In the mind of  a not quite two year old, that’s magic.

The other very early memory I think I have is of watching Humphrey B. Bear with my grandfather. If it is genuine, it must be from around the same period of time… he died just before I turned two.

Sadly, as much as I wish it were accurate, I don’t think it is. It’s too hazy, changes too often… it’s the manifestation of facts I’ve been given and photos I’ve seen.

That’s what our mind does. It’s this incredibly complex tangling of pathways we don’t even understand. Our brains have a tendency to take facts we know and couple them with images or sounds or smells that we are familiar enough with to recreate in our imagination. Stir, shake, push to the extremities of your nuerons… and out pops a memory. One so vivid and real and true that it seems as solid as what’s happening right now.

But memory is such a goddamn subjective thing.

I happened to be discussing the Port Arthur massacre with my friend The Doc a few days ago. We argued vehemently as to whether video footage of exists Martin Bryant, gun in hand as he prowls the grounds of the tourist attraction.

The Doc was certain that not only had it existed, he had seen it. He could describe it for me.

No such footage exists, nor has it ever. It’s a memory The Doc’s mind has created for itself, pieced together from massive amounts of media coverage of an event that occurred over fifteen years ago. But he believed it so passionately and was so positive he had seen it, I have no doubt that he would have been able to pass a lie detector test without the slightest hitch of the needle.

Memory experts describe memories as being like a coin on the bottom of a pool. You can see it, if the water’s clear enough. You know it’s there. But it’s obscured, changed and distorted, depending on the water level and clarity. Depending on the time passed, development gained, trauma, distance and so forth; memories become skewed in the same way. (“He was a giant…”)

I had made the naive assumption that my son’s memories of his father would stay preserved and intact, as they were in the months after he died. That the things he would forget would be things I didn’t know he thought about in the first place. That the memories we had shared and discussed between the two of us would be solidified in our common consciousness of them.

Of course I was wrong. Aren’t I always?

There’s a song that features on the Australian TV show PlaySchool on a semi–regular basis called the Dino Stomp. Once on a time it was the soundtrack to my son’s favorite PlaySchool DVD, played on high rotation whenever he managed to con us into turning the TV on. Around the time Tony and I got married, that DVD was still going strong.

Tony and I honeymooned in Port Macquarie (of all places… I’m not sure why, either), and we took our then eighteen month old Chop with us. We listened to that bloody DVD a hundred times over the three days we were away. And we danced the Dino Stomp over and over.

I think the last time I remember doing it was in the lounge room of the Purple House. I can still see Tony and his son laughing, performing all the actions, while I mimicked them with a tiny six month old Bump in my arms.

All of us were laughing.

It was like heaven.

To be continued…

post signature


Fire, Part Two.

by Lori Dwyer on August 28, 2012 · 11 comments

A letter for my Tony

I will never be ashamed of you.

I hate the pitied looks some people give me when I tell them how you died. It makes my breath catch, after so long of being OK with it– I forget that this is supposed to be shameful, to bring shame to you.

There is none, not a particle of shame, not as far as I’m concerned. I love you like fire. Deep in the very centre of me, where we keep the small flames burning of precious oils for all the souls we have loved, I always will. There is a burner, tiny and ornate, filled the essence of the first person I ever loved completely, without fear and hiding bits of me behind masks and cut outs– the first person who ever loved me, completely, in return. It’s flame is tended by my memories, the memories I have of us, when things where blissful and we were so very in love.

Because if what we had wasn’t love, in it’s sweetest most robust form, then I don’t think it exists. It was beyond love, because we built things on it. Emotion is like vapor– houses and children and wedding rings are tangible. They can means nothing, of course, and many will tell you that’s true. A marriage is nothing bar a piece of parchment paper with a stamped or printed signature.

But then, a wedding day can be as simple as willow branch. And ours was– it was the tieing of people, the making of two into one. The base for a heady, fraught emotion that had become something solid, something tall, something real.

And I thought it would grow taller. I really believed, in my heart of hearts, that you and I would grow old together. That we’d have our shit times, and our good times. That one of us might cheat, and be forgiven. That money would get tough and we’d get through it.

That every wedding we danced at for the next forty years, we’d reminisce sweetly in whispers of our own.

And this was only the beginning of it, the fresh and fertile patch of marriage life, where children are tiny and time is precious and life tramples all over your good intentions. This was our nappies–and–Wiggles–and–sleepless–nights–and–rare–dinners–out–and–shhh–don’t–wake–the–baby time. It was guaranteed to be rough. We were destined to fight. And fight we did, like wildfire. The very same way we loved each other.

Because following this it was supposed to be over, in a completely different way to what it is now. Our children would gradually slip into school age, time passing before we even noticed it happening. And we’d move into school–concerts–and–weekend–sports–and–Justin–Beiber–and–friends–over–for–bbqs–and–mature–age–university–student–and–trusting–each–other–through–years–of–compromise stage.

And we’d love each other that little bit more ever year that passed. A love born of familiarity and working through stuff and not giving up… the way a marriage is supposed to be.

Somewhere, a pipe dream way off in the foggy distance, we would retire to a lighthouse and live a simple life of thermos of hot coffee and dawn fishing trips and watching old (1990′s) movies together on the lounge a night.

It’s an existence I kiss softly and whisper goodbye to… fold into a paper boat and softly wish it solace as I let it glide from hands into the open gray sea.

The nappies–and–Wiggles stage is just about over here, where we are, your children and I.. stuck down here on Earth. With no newborn to sustain it and the Chop off to school in mere months… it’s passed before I even realized it was happening. It’s sad, and I regret it already. It makes me angry with you, that you took that from me when I enjoyed it so thoroughly, when it was all I ever really wanted to do.

But at least I can begin this next stage without missing you so very much– because I had never fully visualized it before you died. This day to day little person raising existence I’m living now, I know every time you are missing from a scene you should be in– and that’s always– because I can rememeber so clearly what it was like to have you here. Because I had this perfectly accurate picture in my mind of how it would be.

We start the next phase with a cleaner slate, the kids and I. There are no blueprints for this one, no expectations that are truly impossible to meet. I’ve stopped waiting for someone new to come along and ’fix’ us, or make the three of us feel complete– we feel complete the way we are. I just had to be patient… it took some time to get here.

It’s saying goodbye, in a way, to something that was so tactically, touchably real and replacing it with a daydream of what could have been. I witnessed you here in the little kid phase,I know what I’m missing. This next bit, I’ve never done it any other way except alone.

And that’s easier, somehow. Less painful. The daydream is further off from here, in the distance where I cant touch it, grab it and wring at it, make its nerve endings sting and squelch in pain. The reality of what was missing was far, far too close… close enough to hurt all the time.

We’re in a transition. Watch over us, as you do. I miss you– that’s a simple fact of life, always will be. But I’m missing the Tony who is eternally 34. And I’m getting older.

This is just to let you know, I guess– we’re OK. I know you knew I would be– I think you always knew how strong I could be if I needed to. But the doesn’t abscond you from leaving me.

And you still owe me, remember? I’m ok here, alone… but I’m lonely.

I miss you. I love you.

Like fire.

post signature