Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Kiss

Photo: Tatia Pilieva
Interesting how memory works.  Of course we remember the big moments in our lives: graduations, weddings, funerals, etc.  But how do we find the smaller moments, the memories from long ago?  Usually, the mind receives a trigger -- perhaps a friend is talking about a shared experience, or you smell an aroma that reminds you, or maybe it's a piece of music or a color.  Triggers can be anything.  Even the news of a death.

Last summer, I wrote about a search for a young man I'd known in college, Robert, and finding out that he had, in fact, died in November 2008.  I wrote about first finding out that he might be deceased from the listing of students on a college program we both attended in Vienna, Austria. After the initial shock, my memory did a very weird thing.

I remembered Robert kissing me good-bye. It was almost a body memory -- the smooth warmth of his lips, the gentle pressure against my lips --  sweet and pleasant.  I felt his affection for me in that kiss, not a good-bye. As I remembered his kiss, I felt an incredible sadness for the young woman I had been and how stupid I was.

A regret? Not really, although it looks like one. In the following weeks as I searched for Robert or information about his death, I remembered other things about him, about my experiences with him. He was kind of a drama prince, flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. I remembered how he'd grabbed my neck one evening, on the street in front of the building where he was living, following a student concert at the Academy of Music. We'd heard an especially talented Brazilian pianist play Chopin and Robert was upset about it. My knowledge of karate allowed me to push his hands away from my neck and to my shoulders.  He shook me.  It took quite a while to calm him down.

What continues to shock me is that the most powerful memory I had of Robert was his good-bye kiss. I knew then what I know now: we were not very compatible people. We could be good friends, but not lovers. Plus, he had chosen me, someone who was unavailable and he knew I was unavailable. During my search this summer, I learned that he had not married, and that made me sad also. But I hold onto the thought that he may have had a long-term relationship and they hadn't wanted to marry.

What determines what we remember and what we forget? Is it the emotional context of the moment? The person? The event? I think emotions play a powerful role in how we remember, how our memory works. Think about it.

Every summer, my memory haunts me with vivid memories of summers at my family's summer house on a lake, the feel of the sun on my bare skin, reading for whole days on the porch, canoeing at night on the lake. Days full of relaxation which my summers no longer have. What was I feeling during the long ago days? Happy. Blissfully ignorant of what was to come.
Summer house

Autumn is my favorite season.  I love the month of October. My memory brings me moments from the past when I was walking home from school, or walking to school on a Saturday to attend a football game and I cut through the park because it was faster, or being gravely ill with bronchitis in sixth grade. School for me, I realize now, never really ended.  Life is the ultimate graduate program and there is no degree, no graduation. Learning about memory is just one more lesson.

Photo by Visit Chippewa Falls, Wis.


I will remember Robert and his kiss for the rest of my life.  What a gift he gave me with that.....

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