When You See Yourself…or, Memory is Tricky

black beautyI stopped calling my ex by his name in writing.

It happened a little while ago, when a friend casually asked me if he minded being named.  I didn’t know.  So, I asked.

He said it didn’t matter.  But I stopped anyway.  As a show of respect.  To allow him to retain his anonymity among those who don’t know him, or me, or “us.”   And quite possibly, as another way of letting go.

I have a habit of inserting lost loves names into conversation, just to make them real.  To keep it, them, alive.  I didn’t think I was doing that with my ex – but maybe I was.

I started thinking about naming people.  I don’t do it often.  When I do, I ask myself why, and how they might feel about it.

Some people love it.  It brings attention to their art.  Or it feels like an honoring of our relationship.  On occasion, it has led to a burgeoning friendship, like with a local actress to whom I owe a phone call.

But for others, it has caused pain.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend took exception to the moniker I had assigned him.  He called me out on it – citing the sometimes negative connotations associated with it, per Wikipedia.

I was devastated.  I adore him – perhaps too much so, sometimes.  After receiving his email, I phoned him immediately.

I did not pause – even though I know better.

I got his voicemail and I left a message.  I said I regretted causing him any pain, that it was never my intention.  I shared my interpretation of the moniker.  I told him that he was my teacher.  That he inspired me.  And I told him I loved him.

That was about a month ago.  I haven’t heard a peep.  I am letting him have his space, his own experience.  This is new for me.

Something similar happened between my mother and me.

I had written about my over-emotional nature as a child – recounting a story that took place in the dollar movie theatre.   She remembered the situation differently than I.  She too called me out on it.

This time I did pause.  And because the harm was done electronically, I made amends in the same way.  I told her I was sorry that my writing had caused her pain, just as I had done with my friend.

This time the result was different.

It led us to a conversation about memory.  How tricky it is.  How three people can see the same accident and yet each remembers a different color, a different make car.

call of the wildA few weeks later I received a package in the mail from her.  Inside was a vintage copy of Black Beauty that she found in an antique store.  Actually, it is two books in one.  Black Beauty on one side.  The Call of the Wild on the other.

The memory in question was in regard to The Black Stallion, but I got it.  Completely.  I was touched by her sweet gesture, her way of letting me know we are more than fine.

A couple of days ago I posted a blog about exs.  One of them commented – favorably.

I wrote to him, “I trust you recognized yourself.”  He did, and we began chatting — online.

We too talked about memory.  About the last time we saw one another, on Venice Beach.   I had just returned my roller skates.

I remember him calling my name.  Going to him.  And him asking if he could see me.  I remembered him kissing me.  He didn’t.  He remembered me angry.  I didn’t.

I asked him what happened between us.  I never understood.  I had asked before but he never answered, and I didn’t push it.  This time he told me.

He told me that I awakened something in him.

He told me how he remembered me. Kind.  Open.  Dirty.  Loving.

He told me our time together mattered, that I mattered.  That I was important in his life, as he had been in mine.

I asked him if we might speak.  Moments later we were.

I had forgotten what his voice sounded like.  Seventeen years had passed since we had last spoken.   I felt a strange sense of relief mixed with joy.  As if to say, “Oh, there you are.  Of course.”   As if he had been there all along.  Which in some ways, he had.

A flood of memories came rushing back.  Hazy.  Not completely formed.  Together, we tried to put together the pieces.

We talked for about an hour, tripping down memory lane.  Talking about our lives today.  The time in between.  Slipping in the occasional flirty quip.  We were always like that.

I wanted to tell him I loved him, but I didn’t.  Instead, I let him know that he is in my heart and I am grateful to know I am still in his.  It is more accurate.

I feel like a piece fell into place in my life.  And a peace, as well.

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Looking For Myself At My Mother’s House

me and momI’m at my mother’s home.  I’ve only been here once before – three or so years ago.

When I pull up I am not sure I am at the right house.  It looks different than I remember, so I call her from the rental car to make certain I am in the right driveway.  That 173 is the correct address.  It is.  And she comes through the garage to greet me.

Inside, the house does not look familiar.  I did not grow up here.  It has been too long since I have visited.

I look around the house.  There is a photograph of my brother and his son.  Another of him with both of his children.  There are photographs of my stepfather’s children and grandchildren.  His mother.  My mother and her brother when they are wee.  A sepia-colored family photograph, taken when my Papa Barney, my great-grandfather, was still alive.

There is nothing of me.

The 43-year-old in me says, “It’s not all about you.”  The 7-year-old says, “Why aren’t there any pictures of me?”  The 7-year-old wins.   And I ask, as casually and with as much detachment as I can muster.

My mother responds without missing a beat.  “All the pictures I have of you have your ex-husband in them.  So we have to take new ones.”

My mother is black and white when it comes to her children.  Anyone who messes with her kids is out.  Period.  Even if she liked them very much, which is the case with my ex-husband.  I remember the first time they met. I woke up the next morning and found them eating leftover birthday cake for breakfast, still in their pajamas.  Thick as thieves.

She takes me into her bedroom and shows me a single photograph of myself, flanked by her and my stepfather.  We are eating ribs and pulled pork.  My mother swore I wouldn’t eat it but I surprised her.  I told her my friend Jerry had turned me on to pork ribs at a BBQ a couple of years prior.  How the little Jew now threw down pork with the best of them.

My mother has cut my ex out of the photograph.  I cannot tell that he was ever there.

Later we look at photographs, as we do every time I visit.  It is my desire, not necessarily hers, and she appeases me.  There are, in fact, photographs of my ex-husband.  Of visits.  Of our wedding.  His hair is dark.  I do not remember him that way.  He has been gray now as long as I can remember. 

The photographs are tucked away in a box, along with my wedding invitation, cards and notes, and her wedding photograph – the one from her first marriage to my father.

There are other photographs, lots of them.  Me as an infant, dressed in red and white checks, sobbing.  At 5, with my jeans rolled up, playing in the surf in Malibu.  At 16, in a black dress with a hood.  We are at a family party.  I think I am punk rock.  My mother is next to me, swathed in winter white, smiling.

My 27 years before meeting my ex, stacked, rubber-banded and tucked into a Ziploc baggie marked “Lesley.” 

I stretch out my arms, point my phone at our faces, and take a photograph of the two of us.  I love doing this. I never know how we will capture ourselves in the moment.  The photograph is always a surprise.  Sometimes we are half a face.  A nose.  Only eyes.

I turn the phone around to look at our picture.  We are framed perfectly.  Centered.