Sometimes I stumble across a memory, and it's like clobbering my shin on a coffee table. I may have lived my life, vividly and overblown for much of the time, yet that is not insurance that all the memories are indelibly fired into the coils of my brain. Sometimes a swath of it will go completely missing. When I recollect these missing portions, it feels a bit stunning. I stop breathing, holding my breath while I mentally probe the unexpected and utterly empty socket in my mind. I'm better than this; how can I forget my own life already? Other people fear The Diabetes; I fear the Alzheimers, and moments like this leave me disturbed and concerned about my faculties.
These "just not there" shards of memory remind me of alarming stories I used to read in the press back in the 1980s and 90s, about "memory repression" or "memory recovery." Typically these kinds of stories were tied to what we would now call "click-bait," stories meant to intrigue and incite a reader into consuming the headline-grabbing content. From childcare facilities staffed with pedophiles and predators (Child Sex Abuse "Scandals") to daughters recalling their murdering father's actions decades later (Daughter Recalls Murder by Father), there was a long string of these lurid stories in the media for years back then, many of them wholly unreliable or later determined to be outright fabrications.
"Recovered memory" was and remains a controversial psychological theory, but I think I could class what I feel when this memory miss happens as exactly that: memory recovery or resurrection. It is not usually tied to anything horrifying or traumatic; it's only the reoccurrence of the memory that startles and stills me.
One of my many unclaimed memories apparently includes what might be the primary reason why I no longer call my father on December 25th.
I spent the entire holiday this year thinking that I had no plans to call my father, as usual, because it is just easier to avoid talking to him on a day that we spectacularly argued about several years ago ... so much so that he stopped sending me presents of any kind. (I have continued to send him occasional holiday gifts, but that's the atheist taking the high road, and who ever heard of that!?) He had resurrected a flagging religiosity and felt compelled to object to my unwillingness to write out "christmas" referring instead to "Xmas." He trotted out the tired and wildly incorrect trope about "Jesus being the reason for the season." And I -- like the smart, well-read human I have become -- responded that it was incorrect to say such an inaccurate thing, as it is actually axial tilt that gives us winter. The concurrently-timed-with-the-winter-equinox-likely-on-purpose-by-the-Romans-who-pushed-catholicism-on-pagans-they-conquered holiday also involved something the Romans called Saturnalia, not the dopey Christ Mass that we have today. Romans worshipped different gods back in their day, which we all now widely discount as myth. No one worships Jove or Venus anymore. Presumptively there will come a wondrous day in the future when this era's god(s) will also pass out of belief, but I likely won't live to see that amazing time. Besides, humans are daft and tragic enough to just replace this millennia's Jehovah with something else equally brutal and silent and wholly implausible. Again.
It is of some note that my father raised his children in the "Church of Christ," which did not observe any holiday religiously, so his own thoughts and beliefs on this subject have clearly changed over time. But I digress. I was in enough of a snit over it at the time that I blogged about it, right after the contretemps with him on this silly topic (see my entry entitled "White Wine in the Sun").
However, I utterly forgot that I ignore this day in his calendar on purpose and with intention. It's not just because of the argument; I ignore him as a form of punishment, born out of my own hurt feelings. On December the 25th, I channel the Gunslinger in Stephen King's books and on purpose "forget the face of my father" -- because he hurt my feelings deeply over "Xmas," and I had blotted that hurtful bit from the annals of my mind. Here is what I recalled: not long after I had moved "back home" to the south, perhaps even the very first year I was back, I had expected to spend time at his house over the then-upcoming holiday, and he informed me that -- oh, the black horror of this irony -- that there was "no room at his house." He made some follow-on self-inflating comment about how many years in advance people "book time" to spend the Holy Holiday at his big-ass gaudy lake house, like he's some Destination Location on the Lifestyles of the Upper Middle Class and Gauche. How blind and foolish I was, his only daughter, to expect to spend time with him during the holidays. And this rebuff was before we had the throwdown about why the damned holiday exists. Presumptively this was before he overtly disowned me for being a baby-eating, devil-worshipping (sic) atheist. (Note: atheists don't believe in gods or devils.)
In hindsight, I wish I had replied, Well FINE, why don't I just stay in a stable and maybe someone will bring me frankincense and myrrh, but at the time I was livid. I felt dismissed, exiled, and unimportant. And those hurt feelings lingered, factoring into my decision to move away from the south again a few years later. And now I live about as far away from him as a body can live and remain a resident of the United States.
So maybe this recovered memory does root in stress and trauma.
After my memory coughed up this hairball, I let that realization drift over me, thinking about all the ways my father has consistently chosen other things over his family and associated obligations. But what’s the point in looking at gaps like that, especially when they cannot be filled? Besides -- this apple fell very close to that detached disinterested tree of his. Two can and have played that game; I too have chosen Other things over family and associate obligations. Touché, as they say. So I hope he's found some fake daughter to help him through his old age, as it will not be me.
I hope she's already booked time at his mansion.
"Memories may be beautiful and yet what's too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget ...." Barbara Streisand, "The Way We Were"
(song written by Alan Bergman / Marilyn Bergman / Marvin Hamlisch)