Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remember, Remember

I had plans for tonight's post. Plans like a giveaway. Plans like reminding you to thank a veteran. Plans like the usual upbeat nonsense I usually write about.

And then someone dies, & everything else stops mattering.

My best friend's uncle died tonight. If it sounds like a distant connection, it's because, to some extent, it is. But I knew him well enough to cry when I got the news today, to stop what I was doing & feel numb, not just for my friend & her family but for him & the memories I have of him.

I have a terrible memory. It's one of my worst qualities, I think, & the one that scares me the most about myself. I forget everything just about as soon as it happens; I don't remember the order of events or who was there or what we said or did. I often see old photos on Facebook & think, "When on earth did I do that?" but am too embarrassed to ask. My friends retell stories of times past, & it's like I've got social amnesia. Not only do I not recall the chronology of the events, I often can't remember the events' existence.

My memories of Uncle Tom are recent; if there are any older than this spring - & of course there are - they're lost in the abyss of my vault of a brain. But two very recent memories of him remain fresh, two memories that have fallen to the front of my mind with a dull thud & have stuck there. This spring, I was home for a wedding & at a local bar with my mom, where my best friend's father's cover band was playing. The place was full of family friends & the parents of kids we grew up with, a live flashback in which I was suddenly & bizarrely old enough to have a beer with the adults who used to babysit me. When I saw Tom & his wife Ann, they asked me a million questions about my life & were genuinely interested in my answers. I remember being flattered that they wanted to have a real conversation with me, & I felt very adult for it. Take the new job, they advised &, adding their words to the collective wisdom I was gathering on the issue, I did.

When I saw them next, they wanted to know all about it. They were in D.C. on vacation & had asked my friend if she thought I might like to go to brunch with them. I told my roommates, "I'm going to brunch with my best friend's aunt & uncle," & the connection seemed strange to them - but not to me. I met them at Open City on one of those truly, devastatingly hot days the District experienced mid-summer, & we could hardly breathe. Tom, newly retired, told me about the door-to-door work he was doing for the Census Bureau & all the crazy people he encountered through it. They paid for my meal & on the way out, I urged them not to try to drive into Georgetown themselves on a Saturday evening, despite Tom's protests that he'd be fine. I later learned that they took a cab & were glad they did.

I didn't know this man well, & I always feel guilty writing about people I don't know well. Who am I to speak to his life & his contributions? But I know this: I was struck by the newness of my memories of him & the way they affected my reaction to his death. I'm grieving for my friend, of course, & for her family, who is like a second family to me, but I'm grieving for him, too, in a way that feels quite real & personal & not just tangential. I just saw him. He was so happy & had so much to say, & it was the first time I felt like I knew them as people & not just as my best friend's aunt & uncle.

What is it about memories that, when someone dies, makes us say "But I just saw him!" & replay as much of that memory reel as we can, no matter who they are or how we knew them? And most importantly, how do I retain those memories? How do I hang onto all the things I know - & recover all the things I've lost - so that when the people I love pass away, I'm not left with a gaping hole where my memories of them ought to be? I'm so afraid of forgetting people before they're even gone, & I'm afraid that when they're gone, I'll have nothing to remember them by, no way of knowing what I knew.

...but I just saw him...

Hairy Situations: It's No-Shave November!

Here in Northeast Ohio, no one works on Capitol Hill because, well, that'd be geographically difficult. And while there are plenty of individuals here who hold traditional 9-to-5 gigs that require them to be clean-shaven & suit-clad, those people are not my friends. Not that I'm biased against clean-shaven, suited men; on the contrary, I miiight actually favor them. I just don't know any of them here.

Back it up. Most of my Ohio friends (that is to say, all three of them) are typically clean-shaven fellas, despite their non-9-to-5y jobs (bartender, grad student, aide for teens with autism). But not this month. No, this month is No-Shave November, a yearly challenge left over from college days, & Movember, a fundraiser to collect money for cancer research. And before they dedicate their souls to a lifetime of desk jobs, my boys are participating while they still can.

The average man will spend 140 days of his life shaving. Well, count this month out! The beards were out in full force tonight, as Adam strolled into the bar with a wild & crazy beard & mustache combo that hasn't seen hide nor hair (pun intended, duh) of grooming utensils since the month began. Astonishingly, his regular-beard to neck-beard ratio is fairly impressive (that is to say, less neck beard than expected). My dear friend Sean is faring less well, though perhaps more enthusiastically: He, too, is lacking in neck beard but is also sadly lacking in the volume of regular beard with which his best bud has been blessed.

Despite their dedication to a razor-free November, I still think Sammi wins:

Why does she own the same stick-on facial hair that my boyfriend wore for Halloween? I have no idea. Just trust the process.
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