this is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. we all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. we sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. mothers are always and never alone. i want to focus on the never part. i want to hear the voices together. i want to start a chorus.
my first clear one is the day my brother was born. our sweet neighbor florence, her softness and dark hair and lipstick, the lollipops she gave out as pacifiers, watching me, all shyness and hope, as i turned into a sister. wonder woman and superman underoos, jumping off couches and trees and believing that flying was just swimming through the air, if only you did it right, the way you dreamed it, like everything else we didn’t yet know. “working on our imaginations” with such longing, like it was a muscle we could build, to see it on a projector, riding brooms that were horses, our simple rock garden jungle. the freckles on our noses, like magic as they peeled, as we grew new skin, as we were changed. the sticky wind in the backseat of the cream cutlass, ‘old ugly’, which was home to rides that defied her name, a little boy i loved, his sweaty head on my lap, making me laugh with his voices, cokes in the cup holders, being exactly where we were, loved and happy. and those long hot days at the swim club, the boys’ backs lined up, their shoulders sharp like baby birds, legs dangling in as one animal. all the floating we did, as still as time gets, the bodies underwater like a song. everything is fluid, we moved together, we could not help getting wet, we wouldn’t have wanted to…”i don’t want to lose your love, tonight. i just want to use your love, tonight…”over the tinny speakers, into the 1980s heat. and when i listen now at my computer, justin vernon doing the cover, singing what it felt like to be eight and hungry to be eighteen, i can hardly bear the way innocence will never be held in anyone’s hands. never once. but only exist through time.
i always come back to the pool. to dip my toes in what was. i go there in my mind when i want to swim in everything, when i need to a place to start. it is how i envision the past, and the forever. water is memory on our skin. we dissolve into it, one molecule becoming the next, a chain that circles and blooms, one smell cracking open the chest of light. we carry the weight of memory on our backs and hips and in our blood, on our skin with the salt of tears and wind, with the rituals we trace in loops through the air, on the wrinkles of our faces. the incense smell of my son’s hair, the way my daughter never, ever turns back facing the biggest waves, the drawings they both leave everywhere, the school of “i’ll teach you how to love”, the new world of songs each night in the bath tub, and the wildness i love. the beautiful detritus, running through our fingers, one drop of it coloring everything. moment to moment lived as a revelation. everything now is drenched in longing. memory is the eye of the storm. we are wet, and the winds are too strong to hold on.
but what we cannot carry in our arms will save us. we cannot hold water, only float upon it.
She would dig in her purse and emerge with a handful of coins, mostly pennies and toss them into the warm summer pool as she sat back and watched us from her lounge chair. Relaxed, warm, with a huge smile she’d shout…Go! And the coins would scatter, sinking with determination to the bottom of the pool. My brother and I would catch our breaths and excitedly race to bottom of the deep end, where the water was cooler, quiet, collecting the coins, our treasures, one by one. Splashing to surface gasping for breath, we’d gather our coins along the warm concrete edge of the pool. The sun glinting off our coins into our eyes that burned from too much chlorine water.
Laying on our bellies beside her chair, concrete rough but warm against our skin, we’d count our coins in the sun. We would argue over who collected the most coins, arranged them by years, separating the shiny from the dull. Wetting them over and over in the water that pooled around our drying bodies and watching them dry in the sun again. Moving the coins around with our fingers, lined up in front of us, arranged just so, making patterns, making them again. Finally, dry and ready for something new, we would present our coins, our treasures, our offerings, arranged just so.
And so, with my own, I give you the green Spring fields to find and search for your treasures. With great memory, inside feeling relaxed and warm, I shout Go! Sticks and buckets in hand you run with abandon, the sun and the wind whips around you as you collect, examine, and find yourself. You run to me, smiling, gasping for breath, buckets filled. Arguing along the way over who collected the most, whose flower is more beautiful, separating by color, by size. Feeling your way in creating. In the end you consciously lay out your offerings, your special collections, arranging each piece just so. For me to observe. For me to treasure.
Not that I mind, but it was a startling realization to discover my memory seems to have a sticky mute button.
I remember telling my mom you were on the way. It was a moment I’d looked forward to for a long time, but as I sat with her on the phone I felt distracted by the huge pit in my stomach. Don’t get me wrong, I was euphoric at the thought of you; it’s just both my mom and I knew she wouldn’t live to see you born.
This was the last lucid conversation I had with my mother, the next time I saw her she was all but gone. Her body hung on, but her mind had already let go. I remember lying next to her in a bedroom in my childhood home. This room had seen so much life and now, along with the family it housed for 25 years, it would see death for the first time.
I remember feeling uncomfortable and wondering, wasn’t there supposed to be a meaningful moment? A chance for me to tell her how much she means to me? A tender memory I can later recall in times of sorrow? As I rose from the bed I embraced my mother’s peaceful body and hopelessly whispered a timid “I love you”, my voice rendered shy by the enormity of the situation. I don’t know if she heard me or if she even knew I was there.
I guess by 25 I should have understood, the memories you get are not the ones you plan for. I realized later I hadn’t missed our moment, it happened when I told her about you. I only wish I’d had known it at the time because I would have paid more attention. Now I know, life doesn’t point a shiny neon sign at the moments that matter; play it safe and make a point of feeling them all.
I keep my grandmother’s apron rolled in a narrow ball. Pilled, worn to a fray. Furling edges. Deep pockets with rows of flowers, orderly and tight. I see my fingers from afar when I pull it out, and become loose in my own skin. Sometimes all it takes is a touch to bring me back. Brillo. Olive oil. Wooden cabinets with plastic liners. Spearmint leaves, rosary beads, and unwound tissues. Memories roll around inside like huge steel balls. Bumping my ribs and skin. I am too small for the space they need. They leave huge, soft bruises, black as night. The memory of her table. The sound of their TV. The smell of peppers and skinned tomatoes. I am little – my girl hands plunged in those apron pockets. I am safe. Unaware. Full. My hair is blowing in the wind, but I sit inside. The sun is on my face, but I am at her kitchen table. I hear nothing but birds and boiling water, and feel the warmth of her eyes on my skin. The sound of her calling my name. Her voice lands in my palms. I’ve caught it like a sparrow.
Now — I look at my daughter. Scan her smooth face, and her eyes, black as pools. What memories will bring her back to me when I am gone? What will wake her in the night? What string will she swing for blindly, and find? What will be the thread that leads her heart back to mine?
When I was young, my favorite person in the world was my Nana Sue. she lived here, I lived there..but my dream was to live with her, here. Shortly after graduation, I jumped in my car and headed for south Florida..making my dream a reality. I went to the beach everyday for a week and it was then i swore I would go always from then on…but that never happened, because LIFE happened….as it should. I can remember a span of 5 years that I never saw the beach, never heard the roar of the ocean…and i felt lost. I’m so close; there really is no excuse. Then I met my husband. I knew immediately that he was the one. I dreamt of babies and lots of time at grama’s spoiling with cookies and treats but instead, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, and died when I was 8 months pregnant with my son. I wept. And I wept. And I wept. To the point that I was afraid for my baby…so I had to stop.
One year later, my son is at that same beach i first landed on, and is obsessed with sea shells as was she. One year later, my daughter Eva was born. That child has been drawn to to the ocean and to that beach ever since. It’s this beach, this image, this is my memory…its a part of my soul. I look at this and think of how lucky I am, I think of how much Eva looks like her, and think of what it would be like today if she were here. Part of my heart breaks seeing them on this beach…seeing how little they truly are in this world, on the beach I first came to. But really because, I wish she was here to see them for herself. I know she is with us, I know she is here. I would give anything for one more day to see her with them…
Curled and soft
Clinging to my thumb
Startled fingers open wide
Clumsily clasping my glasses
Gently grasping my hair
Pulling on my skirts
Wound tight around my neck
…as sobs crash around me
Gently rocking your baby dolls
Smearing finger paints
Delicately blending clay
Sweeping the crayon
…and then the pencil
Mixing, stirring, baking
Delicately tucked under your pillow
Finding me in the dark
…asking for comfort
Growing more independent
…each passing day
Forever holding my heart
My heart hopes you remember these moments.
That you recall what it feels like to love as effortlessly and open as you do with each other.
I pray that you are thankful for this relationship and realize how powerful it is in your life.
Every day we grow a bit more, and away from how things were.
Change is good, we’re learning to embrace it, but don’t forget where you have come from.
Who has walked besides you, who has lifted you up, who has cried with you.
Cling to this kindred spirit you were gifted.
I try to remember my childhood hidden away in that magical part of my brain where memories are stored. Hot summer days are what i recall the most, those were the best days, the never ending days, the carefree and running through the field to find a good tree to climb or a perfect place to make a den days. I will always remember playing outside all day long with my neighbourhood friends, my bare feet getting grubbier on the hot concrete, bruised knees from too many falls. Bath time would come at the end of those long summer days…. the water would be dirty with mud and grass, all the memories from those playful hours being sucked down the plug hole.
Memories are like treasure, they are sometimes dug up because of a song you might hear or a smell that takes you back to a birthday morning opening your newly plastic smelling baby doll.
Memories are precious like gold. Keep them safe in your magical treasure chest.
I am 6 years old.
I am laying in my bed in a room I share with my older sister. The house is quiet and the room is dark, except for the moonlight peeking though the window slats. Some of the slats are bent, distorting the light on the carpet.
“How do you know God is real?” I ask my sister.
She tells me to shut my eyes really tight, which I do, and then she counts to 10 out loud.
“Open them slowly” she whispers to me from across our room. I carefully open my eyes, anxiously waiting to see what will happen.
A kaleidoscope of white and coloured dots and shapes, sparkle and swirl in front and all around me. “Do you see that?” she asks. “Yes…I do!!” I answer excitedly.
“That’s God. See…He is real. He is everywhere!!”
This memory is still so very real and vivid to me. It was a time of innocence and wonder. A time when 2 sisters shared a room and a friendship with each other. She was tall and beautiful and had cool clothes. She was fun and creative and loved Bon Jovi. She was strong and assertive and confident. She teased me, but she also was always my greatest ally. She made me drink toilet water once and eat a daddy long legs, but I absolutely adored her.
And she assured and comforted me that God was very real…that I could even see Him if I wanted to.
And now, 32 years later, my own children have asked me the very same question…”how do you know God is real Mom?”. And I simply tell them to close their eyes tight, and slowly open them…and to look all around and feel the air on their face…and see that He is everywhere.”
My favorite memories are of sharing my passion with my girls, Severine and Margeaux. I have documented their childhood on film and have a wall filled with portraits of them from over the years. While I taught them how to be confident yet still relaxed in front of the camera, they actually taught me a thing or two behind the camera. As they have gotten older, my work with them has become collaboration. Often times I let them take the lead and the most wonderful, creative images have come from it. Whether it’s scouting and exploring new locations together, watching them dress up in beautiful, vintage dresses and feeling special, or showing them what beautiful young girls they are on the inside and out, that is my favorite memory.
Whenever I look at this image, I am reminded of how incredibly cold it was that day with the wind whipping off the reservoir. I wanted the shot to be about the skirt and the shape it was making in the wind. I knew it was magical as it was being captured, but I realize now it is one of the first images where I can see the woman that my 14 year-old daughter is becoming.
I shoot almost exclusively with film. There is a special anticipation waiting to get the film back from my lab. The hoping and waiting adds an element of romance to the image. To me, knowing that it is captured on film makes this gorgeous image that much more special.
As parents we naturally want to paint a magical world for our kids. Memories full of chalk drawings on driveways, hot summer nights catching lightening bugs. The perfect birthday cake you stayed up all night to make . Little notes sketched with the perfect red heart hidden in lunch boxes.
But we all know they will remember the stuff we don’t want them to. The time you lost your cool because they dumped a bowl of soup on the couch. The time you tripped and took them down with you. Art found in the trash can you swear you stuffed to the bottom. Or the times you were just too tired to be the parent they wanted you to be.
And that is just how life is. As much as I want to protect them from bad memories, those memories also make them into who they are going to be.
I was once asked, “What do you want your kids to remember?” I want them to remember how they felt. And that is loved.
My Memory. You taunt me every day. But I have gotten better at letting go of the fear of you. You have awakened me slowly as I have learned to pick up that camera and see everything around me that lets me see everything around you. My image of my little in my home instantly throws me back to a place, a feeling and a time when memory is so second nature and living presently. As I stand in my memory, I feel the same feelings, I smell the same air and I breathe in the details of who I was, who I am, who I want to be and unselfishly so, the sweet memory of my little in that little place in our world. The memory came to me in an instant as she sat in the perfect position framed by her scene. Her Scene. My Memory. She is contemplative and serene and watching with intent. But what most lives in my memory is her curls, the light to dark, the contrast, the small sparkle in her eye, her cupid’s bow, curves of her sweet pucker, the curve of her nose and shape at the end, her fingers resting so gently in the place to hold her head, her fingers, her wrist crease. It may never be your memory sweet child, just an act in your scene, but you were there with me forever, today and tomorrow. My Memory.
I hold in my memory all the bits of my life that make me who I am.
I just heard the other day that we only remember 40% of what we did yesterday. What does that mean for last year? For 30 years ago?
I know I remember the chill of river water on a warm summer day, the light coming through the trees and soft wind moving through their branches.
I remember the sound of water rushing over the rocks and the sound of almost nothing at all as I sun on the beach with my feet in the warm sand.
I remember last summer when my kids rode the rapids for the very first time and searched for tadpoles all afternoon.
In my mind holds a memory from long ago–
Of 30+ years ago when I played at the very same spot on that river. Where I sat on the beach and drank Coca Cola with my sister.
A memory of a time when we searched for tadpoles all afternoon long.