Outside my parents’ bedroom was a tree where my father once suspended an old tire. We would climb into the tire, feet dangling through the middle, young hands gripping the rope until our fingers turned red and white and splinters of twine wedged under our skin. The ground beneath the tire was worn down, patches of moss and dirt mingled with dandelions and weeds. On rainy days, the earth turned to mud, and the tire filled with water, posing a problem for small children. You see, the tire was too heavy for us to tip over, so the water would absorb its surroundings, which meant that we would find ourselves dripping with stagnate rubber funk if we dared to swing.
The thing about memories is that we forget about them—until we don’t.
That rush of emotion that hits us when they come flooding back can be both welcome and terrifying. Because in remembering what we’d forgotten, we suddenly have to remember, and sometimes the act of remembering is just as devastating as those moments when we beg and plead for any tiny bit of recall.
When we forget, we might spend our mental energy on trying to recover what we’ve lost in the recesses of our busy brains. We may feel the loss of those memories. But I believe that the reclaiming of a lost memory can be just as, if not more so, painful as the belief that we’d lost it in the first place.
We might be cleaning out our closet and come across a pair of shoes, and we swear we can hear the music we once danced to faintly in the background like the whirring of an air conditioner or the low hum of the TV in the other room. We might be buying groceries and catch a hint of cologne on the air, and the fear we once felt can tear the oxygen straight from our lungs. Eating dinner with friends, a shadow in our periphery catches our attention, and for a moment, our heart pauses because we think we see someone we lost.
In a split second, the memories come flooding back to us. And just as quickly as the memories slide show across our minds, they are replaced with the reminder of the emptiness that they left behind. Because in remembering, we are reminded of what we cannot touch, what has drifted far beyond our reach.
In remembering, we are reminded of what we lost, and that alone is sometimes worth the price of forgetting.
So many of my memories of my childhood have faded into the cluttered mess that is my mind. Those insignificantly significant moments turned from hours to days to years. And now, they’ve turned to decades. There are countless moments I would love to remember, and now, I rely on old photographs and family and friends to remind me of the ones I can’t quite put my finger on. If I’m honest, there are times when they tell me stories, and I might as well be listening to a book on tape because I have no idea what they are talking about.
I’ve tried to pinpoint when we stopped swinging on that tire. Did we just grow tired of the endless back and forth, or did the rope eventually break and the tire thud to the ground? In my family, both are equally likely scenarios.
I’d forgotten about that swing until recently when I was checking the air in my tires. My body bent over, watching the gauge and calculating what I needed against what I had. The puddle of leftover thunderstorms mingled just right with the rubber and sulfur and god-only-knows-what on the blacktop. And I smelled my childhood on my hands, hidden beneath the dirt and soap and remnants of the vinaigrette I had at lunch. I scrubbed to get the grime off my hands, and the smell faded away. The memories, they managed to linger, and for once, I am grateful.