Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Memory of Persistence

So if I stay up blogging past midnight, does my post count for the day I started or the day I ended?

I spent some time today shuttling my oldest son to a doctor's appointment, then running errands, then to and from a friend's house. He seems content to sit there in the passenger seat during these rides, staring forward and hovering between deep and no thought.

The silence is unbearable for me; I have to ask a question, any question. Most often it's asking him to find a radio station that will play decent music by bands he appreciates. That evolves into a tutorial for me on bands, musical genres, touring schedules, new releases, and op-ed about who has stayed true to their passion and who has sold out. Hours later the fun continues for me when we have follow-up dinner-table conversation and his poor dad asks what a Vampire Weekend is, or puzzles about why The Mountain Goats were at the Electric Factory and not in the Rockies. (We need to get this man up to speed on popular culture.)

Tonight, though, was a little different. We started by listening to a radio interview of a former teenage hacker turned cyber-security expert. And somehow this evolved into talking about books, me suggesting he read Dave Eggers, about the quality of good versus "soap-opera" memoir, and then about him wanting to write his own story. And then the question: how does memory work? If only memory worked like a computer array instead of a concept cloud. And him lamenting, if only I could remember what happened when I was in the hospital, if I could just go back to see the room [the unit has been renovated and is quite different], if my brain worked in chronological order so that the story would make sense...only what I recall is not organized or orderly or coherent. How can I make that a story?

I tried to explain that chronology can sometimes squeeze the life out of a story--it becomes a calendar and not an unfolding process. I reminded him that memories are multisensory: there are not only words and pictures, but their are sensations, smells, noises...and emotions. He didn't seem to hear me.

"Mom...there was a journal, wasn't there? That whomever was staying with me in the hospital would write. I don't know where it is. Do we still have it? I'd like to see it."

I reassured him that, yes, the journal was in my possession, on my bookshelf. And that there is also a collection of emails I wrote, to about 200 people at a pop, updating them on the events of our lives and the progress of his treatment. (This was at the birth of the blog movement, just as sites like CaringBridge and others were starting, and since he, as my tech support, was in no condition to teach me, I passed up the opportunity to archive our experience on such a site.) And that I would be glad to share the emails with him as well.

I smiled inwardly, surprised, delighted. I had promised myself that I would tell his story, our family's story of childhood cancer, since I so desperately wanted a survival story when we entered the ped-onc world. But then everyday life took over and the written story never jelled from the bits and pieces we have saved.

Maybe now is the time. And wouldn't this be the most remarkable story of them all: a cancer survivor's story through the eyes of a child.

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