“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”—Cicero
It is a bitter cold morning in Maine, so cold that my teeth hurt when I walk outside, boots crunching in the frozen snow. I am thinking about something a friend once said to me on a hot, end-of-summer day. She felt depleted by the season and described her own experience as mirroring the drying and dying roots underground.
In contrast, she gave a vivid description of the dynamic activity beneath a snowy, wintery day—like today—hardy perennials developing and delivering their winding root systems beneath the frosty layers, worms and frogs and gophers establishing their cold-weather getaways.
It was a new awareness for me and I’ve since enjoyed imagining the vibrant, creative world beneath the still, white surface of these colder months. I have always liked to imagine what lies beneath the surface of things.
When I was living in Spain in my last year of college, I came upon a calico cat sleeping on a green, park bench. I took a photograph, appreciating the contrast of colors. I carried the picture around for years but didn’t make a connection until recently that I had later adopted a kitten that grew to look just like the cat in the photo. She’s been with me for nearly eighteen years now and we are in the final days of our long-goodbye.
I’ve moved her bed over by the fire so I can see her and she can feel the warmth radiating from the fire—and me. Her head is drooped over the side of her bed, waiting.
Yesterday I petted her nose—running a single finger along the black triangular marking that has always given her face a striking beauty. I wondered if I will be able to remember the way that feels—her soft fur, her explicit trust in me. I’ve seen how sensations met with presence are preserved longer within the mind—a body memory inscribed more deeply with the aid of heightened attention.
This is the way to recall chubby, silky, baby legs, and the warm hug of a friend. This is the way to remember when you have said that thing that makes them laugh so hard. Recording a life occurs moment by moment by every-single-precious moment. Slowing time in the luscious present allows for the reapplication of the sweet times— like a salve—upon the heartaches of living.
Autumn’s first home was my threadbare, West Village apartment in New York City where a gutted out fireplace served as my closet. She would sit on the windowsill and peer out at the pigeons in the courtyard making chattering sounds in communication. She liked to climb up onto a dresser and stick her head up under a lampshade and take in the light. My sister referred to this as Autumn seeking the light. She was with me there on September 11th when ash covered the street outside my building and she has been with me in every life-changing event ever since.
We’ve had a meeting place twice-a-day for several years now. In the mornings, I sneak downstairs in the dark. I scoop out coffee to brew and sometimes stir up a fire leftover from the night before. Autumn silently rises from her own bed and makes her way into the living room, meeting me on a pillow placed for her on the ottoman in front of the couch.
Before I begin writing or meditating, I lean forward—cross-legged—and bump my head against hers, sometimes lingering, rubbing my forehead back and forth. When I raise my head back up and look at her, she blinks her eyes slowly at me. This has been our ritual.
In the evening, I call out to her in a sing-songy voice, her name becoming two, distinct, higher-pitched syllables. If I happen to see her when I say her name in this way, I can witness her ears perking up and expanding wider—taking in my voice. She always comes to me from wherever she is.
When I do this now—as a test—she remains still, her head down. When she does finally look up at me, her eyes are narrowed and hollowed. Last night, Adrian said, “It is almost like she already died.” I knew just what he meant.
I have stacks and stacks of re-purposed wall-calendars in my studio that I draw on for my work. My hands are always so dry in this season and I am aware of this as I thumb through looking for the colors I need for my latest piece. I’m in search of the hues I use for skin—rose and coral and salmon; blush and cinnamon and umber. Images that are good for this are sand and mountains and azaleas; pottery, sunsets and tile.
With each page I turn, I take in the many notations made within the dated boxes. Some people fill up the spaces within their calendars fully—every appointment, birthday and remarkable event notated. I can almost feel them writing out these reminders, their arm propped against a wall as they lean forward writing, trying to make all of the information fit.
Others are more sparse with what they jot down—only the occasional indication of use can be found. I imagine them gazing at the many beautiful images that appear—Rothko’s rich color choices with bleeding edges, Georgia O’Keefe’s succulent desert displays, Katsushika Hokusai’s great waves.
The transformation of these famous works into other creative expressions has me in its grasp. My studio—though mostly solitary—feels full with the many lives that have at one-time been engaged in the materials I use to create.
I imagine standing near me the growing girl whose first birthday was notated on this calendar, the mother of a friend though gone now is present in this one—her lifetime of notes entrusted to me. My dry fingertips pick up the particles of living that have come so abundantly into my care—like a towering pile of sand. I carefully extract the essence to be transformed into a new life on a fresh page.I don’t want to say goodbye. I want to say thank you and I want to say see you in another way, at another time. I have inscribed you—and you, and you and you—on the fabric of me, never to be erased and there—carefully, fully notated— to be replayed. Again and again.
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