Today I’m not going to Google anything that might alter how I remember things. Let memories be memories and leave it at that. I am sick of fact-checking my life. From trying to remember things correctly.
All these photos zip-locked and stashed in steamer trunk. Pre-digital. Some with a date on the back or time-stamped on the front-bottom corner. Some with a year or place or name scribbled on the back, but most with nothing to add anything to the image. Nothing to make it truer than it is all by itself.
There was a time when these photos were locked in an album. Affixed to a gluey surface, a thick sort of cellophane across the top for protection. Glossy or matte and sorted in a way to make things easy to remember. A timeline. A lineage of experiences. One of the ways I’ve organized my life so that I didn’t have to think. So that I didn’t have to worry about being wrong. I took them out to save space.
I read somewhere that each memory is actually a memory of the last memory, which is a memory of the previous memory and so on. Each recollection is progressively more false. Each memory, skewed. Tainted by desires, ideal narratives, and my insatiable ego.
Somewhere along the line I stopped caring much about truth. The story, however, is where it’s at. But it’s got to be the kind of story that changes things. One I cannot skim. One that ushers in a sort of magic and makes me slow down, stop even, and actually either read or listen to words. Words that draw fantastic pictures in my brain. Make me see and feel something that confuses my lips.
Today I am thinking about Baja Mexico. Of my best friend, Kent. Driving my Jeep off the highway, onto a dirt road, wash-boarded, to a place with a frightening name—one that’s too long to say. You can see it on the map and know things. But to say it aloud is to degrade it for some reason. I think it’s Parque National Constitution de 1850-something. Conifer zone in the middle of a desert finger. Alpine lakes, blue and cold and reflecting a singular cloud. Boulder knuckles, white and stretched, exposed and sun-washed. Laguna Hanson. Herds of cows staring at our dusty wake. A giant fire made from plate-sized dried piles of cow shit.
And us—dancing around flames, leaping over them, cooking chili in a can buried in coals and watching the Hormel label peel off in a blue flame. It’s there then it’s gone. No tent. No sounds.
Then further south, Sierra San Pedro Martír. A 10,000 foot peak, a peninsular nose. The flutter of aspens make us walk slower. Make us whisper a million prayers in the breeze. Century-old carvings in white bark. A name. A date. A family on horseback, packed mules, blankets. Just passing through. A scar to guide who comes next.
And then, an abandoned trailer with flat tires, standing with a limp. Broken windows. We watch for movement. Then Kent pulls a Nerf football from his pack and we toss it around in a nearby field. Long bombs. Long leads. Then I hurl it like a quarterback at an unassuming cow, who runs away horrified. A pinecone fire.
My grandmother said that someday she’d be too old to move around. She’d sit in a chair at home in San Lorenzo and look at photos. Live her life all over again. Look at pictures and wonder if she actually did that, is that even her, who’s that next to her because she can’t place their face or the scenery. Nothing to spark a memory. Nothing that fills her body with a rush of nostalgia. That dangerous disease of past expectation and judgment. Of achievement.
But she died before she could look through her books again. Before she could read the countless journals or wonder about days long past. I’d like to think she left without any need for memories. With a happiness that comes from being alive today, on that particular day whenever it was. The sort of day, anyhow, before she slipped away with all her truths locked up in her skin.
I’m still young. Even if only in my mind. Yet I see my photos and think yeah, I’ve done some cool stuff. But it doesn’t make a difference. It’s never enough. I always look and think I need more. More places. More experiences. More photos. More, more, more. This won’t change. This unremitting urge to get better by having done something, even if this something is likely to be forgotten in the end no matter how many photos I’ve taken.
Even when I do remember, I remember all wrong. And I hate myself for it.