These Are The Things I Have Forgotten:
The way my Grandmother smelled
I remember the way my sister smelled, of menthol cigarettes and cheap, overpowering body spray that lingered in a room long after she left, and permeated the DNA of her green Camry.
I remember the way the cat smelled, like spilled tears and comfort and my mother’s house. I pick up the new cat who is not so new anymore, and bury my face in his soft fur. I want to force that smell on him, but he won’t cooperate; he barely tolerates me. He accepted Kelly’s scent when she held him—of course, he was her cat—but he won’t accept Hobbes’ no matter how much I wish it.
If I can remember how the cat smelled, shouldn’t I remember Grandma’s smell?
The taste of mustard
Or mayonnaise. Or pickles. Or all of the other things that I’m sure I hate, so much that I cringe or shudder when they are mentioned.
What my recorded voice sounded like
The video of my senior recital was taped over, or lost, years ago. There is no footage from my college performances. The cassette tapes from high school concerts are useless—who has anything that plays a cassette tape? I kept a Walkman for years, just in case I wanted to listen to one of those archaic tapes, but eventually, it too went the way of the rest of our obsolete 80s electronics.
Kelly’s recordings were done on CDs, so we could easily transfer them to our laptops and phones, and play them at her memorial service or in our cars. It’s her voice that I hear now when I remember songs we both sang.
The books I have read
Including those I studied and referenced on my AP English test, the ones catalogued on the “Best 100 Books of All Time” lists (did I actually read 1984, or do I just think I did?) and almost every book I read on my iPad.
The first time I saw a sun set over the ocean
Maybe it was on our first family trip to California when I was fifteen. Did I notice it there, when Kelly and I walked by ourselves down to a wharf theatre to see You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, in a rare moment of camaraderie due to the freedom of being without our parents for the evening in an unfamiliar city?
Or maybe it was when we went to Bermuda the following year. There is a picture of us on a golf course at our resort, the two of us, with windblown hair and terrible 90s clothing. The sunset is behind us. Did we ever turn around to see it?
Maybe it was even later still, on our last trip together as a family, to Captiva Island. I have the fewest memories of this trip, beyond the sand whipping around on the beach in a weeklong windstorm, and the long, solitary drive across Alligator Alley from Miami. It feels that much more tragic since we would have no subsequent trips. I would travel again with my mom, with Kelly, with my dad, but never again as that original foursome.
When I had my first kiss
I think I used to lie about it, and now I can’t remember what is the lie and what is the truth. The same with when I lost my virginity, a night whose details I remember down to the perfume I wore (Estee Lauder Pleasures, which I hated but he gifted me) and the CD in my stereo (Toni Braxton, Secrets) but whose date I cannot confirm with any certainty. The lies I told other people became the lies I told myself.
What it felt like to hug my Nana
I was ten the last time I saw her, in a wheelchair at my uncle’s wedding. There must have been a fragile maneuvering around the medical equipment, gestures involving patting and kind words. We saw her less than we saw our other grandmother, whose embrace and fragile body and soft skin I can remember like she squeezed me just this morning, rather than over a dozen years ago. My dad’s mother was tall, and sturdy, before the cancer. I wonder if I would have grown taller than she was, had she lived longer. I wonder if I would have wrapped my own strong arms around her, if I would have been the sturdier one. I wonder if I will someday be the formerly tall, formerly sturdy woman in a wheelchair at my son’s wedding, who dies later that night having seen all of her children wed?
How to play the flute
How to play the piano (mostly). How to sing a harmonic minor scale. How to transcribe a melody. And likely every single thing I learned in my 4th semester of music theory.
What my grandfather’s poached eggs taste like
I know that they were the best we ever tasted. I know Kelly still wanted him to make one for her when she visited him last year. I know that I hate to order them in restaurants, certain they will never be as good as his (the way I know linguini with clam sauce cooked by anyone else will never match my mother’s). But I cannot conjure up the taste, only the recollection of the perfect amount of runniness in the yolk, the perfect firmness of the whites. I know that I will never again ask my grandfather to make one for me, because that was her thing.
My natural hair color
Why I hated the first day of school videos
My mom took them every year until we moved to Basking Ridge when I was in fifth grade. We started on our front stoop—Kelly, me, Michelle and Aimee from next door, sometimes some of the other neighbors—and walked down the long, rocky driveway and across the street to the bus stop. I was the only one who refused to play along when my mom asked us what we had in our lunchboxes that day, or if we were excited about the first day of school. I was the only one with the scowl, or walking too fast for the camera to follow. Kelly was just happy to be included, even though most years she would be left behind with my mom, at home, after the big kids got on that bus.
Where I left my first pair of earrings
The gold hearts with the diamond sparkle. The ones I’d been hanging onto since I got my ears pierced nearly thirty years ago. The ones I thought my future daughter might one day wear.
My last words to my sister
I know my last words via email: “Have a good Thanksgiving with Dad.”
I know my last words via voicemail, before she left for Arizona that August: “I love you, bye.” I’m not even sure I meant them at the time. I was angry, and only left the voicemail because my mom asked me to call her. I mean them now, but I don’t know if that matters.
I don’t remember the end of our last phone conversation. I don’t remember our last in- person conversation. I’m not even sure I remember the last time I saw her, some time in early 2013. Can that really be possible? Can I really not remember the last time I saw my sister?
Incredibly moving. The last memories of we have of things are somehow always painful or bittersweet to a certain degree. I remember the last time I ever saw my grandmother alive (that memory still hurts). But I also remember the last time I was on my college campus as a student, and even though graduation was a happy occasion and I have no desire to go back, there’s something bittersweet about the memory of the 22-year-old me feeling so alive & full of promise, ready to take on the world (in the middle of a recession, as it were). I loved this piece. I love your writing. xo
I am so quietly moved by your memories–both remembered and forgotten.
While reading this piece, I started to think about all the things I can’t remember, as well. I know there are things I have specifically put out of my head for one reason or another and I am only reminded of them when I’m out with old friends who marvel at the way I have forgotten so much, and then feel compelled to bring up every awful detail. But there are things I truly miss and wish I could remember like the way my grandmother smelled: I catch a scent every once in awhile and my eyes fill up with tears. Or my father’s voice, which can be heard on my old home movies but it sends me into hysterical convulsions so I can’t watch or listen to those tapes and I just try to keep the idea of his voice but it takes a lot of concentration to bring it back. It is amazing how places, sounds, scents, certain types of weather, can evoke memories in all of us. I cherish them and am sometimes fearful of them. Walking outside on a beautiful spring day sometimes reminds me of being in elementary school in Philadelphia with my best friends, but sometimes it reminds me of Sunday outings to the park with my dad and our two Siberian Huskies and even though that is an amazing memory it hurts so much it could send me to bed for a whole day just to get away from it. I am thankful for my memories, the important ones, and I am equally thankful to an honest writer, like you, to remind me of the difficult things we all need to go through to keep those memories alive. It’s also nice to know someone like you in out there in the world, and feeling the things I feel. We truly are not alone, even when we think we are.
so beautifully written…your stories touch me in ways that are hard to explain. I so appreciate your honesty and raw feelings. Having two daughters of my own, I also appreciate your thoughts on memories….you are a special writer….
I think there’s something powerful in even trying to remember what it is you’ve forgotten. Beautiful post.
This made me weep. I have been missing Kelly especially these last few days. It seems I keep seeing people who look like her and I always wish it IS her and I got some terribly wrong information and here she is, smiling at me…but of course, it isn’t Kelly. I have our last texts…I was sorry she would miss the wedding and not be with us for Thanksgiving, but I knew she was feeling homesick and was very glad she would make the trip back. We had been trying to get together and the very last thing I said (although I didn’t know it would be that) was “Good! Go enjoy your family! I’ll see you in December! xxxooo” You have such a gift, Katie, and your words bring Kelly back (like the menthol smell!) I’m glad you share it with the world.
Beautiful and painful. Thank you for sharing.