Thursday, June 20, 2013

AMOUR & emotional memory

The man of the couple in AMOUR, which I watched on a tiny seatback screen on the flight from Dulles to Honolulu the other day, tells his wife a story. Neither he nor I can remember the content of that story. But he tells her that what he does remember are his emotions then, emotions that carry over to the brief present-tense of the scene.

I spent a week on the east coast this month, mostly in D.C. and Virginia, where I grew up, and where my mother's Alzheimer's home was and is. Bit part stories floated up as I drove here and there, mainly stories of childhood set in places that resembled where I was now, but have changed considerably. White people in NE DC? Metro being built out to Tyson's Corner? The very maps had altered, as had I, though my experience of the place was like a palimpsest of old and new tenses. Less narrative than emotional. Cycle and recycle of feeling.

My mother's Alzheimer's home has changed, too. Decor less Ethan Allen furniture store-like than before, more contemporary. Colors more vivid, wall installations to touch and make sounds with, a mock hobby shop in one corner, and a new name for Country Lane, where Martha lived not in room 9 (as I wrote in my book) but in room 11. Never was good with numbers. Sylvia now uses a walker; she's still playful and can read (though what content there is to the sounds we can't know), but she's more frail, less fiesty. No more asking for cab fare out. No more talk about da stoah. No more handbag bursting with fruit. Gone are Florence, with the lovely sweaters and the constant non-narrative, and Estella, who yelled "NO CHEESE" at every meal. Gone are others I can hardly remember. Present still is Thea, whose daughter was pleased to hear of her mother's compassion when mine died, two years ago almost to the day of this visit.

A death fantasy that is not my own. Proviso that one would need not to have family responsibilities, just oneself. Buy a boat, fill it with drink and smoke, fill the tank with gas, and drive it as far as the fuel would take you. Enjoy a last party. Make sure not to leave a mess. Go off, before dementia came to meet you, came to steal your fantasy.

At the Hirschhorn a large installation in a small room with a very high ceiling. Inspired by a man in Philadelphia who pinned notes to himself all over his house. The room's floor is waxed, but there are slips of paper underneath the wax. Don't wear shoes. The walls are covered with notes, most too high to read, some too low to get at. Each note the size of an index card, but on slighter paper, pinned to the wall with a single steel pin. A fan at the entrance, one that moves back and forth. The slips of paper move with the air, make the sound of an auditorium full of students with thin papered Nortons when the professor gives them a page number. The slips I read, which were at eye level, were about a strike, labor. Others were quotations, one from Proust.

I left the room, put on my shoes.  "Miss Tina, Miss Tina" a guard kept saying. He was looking at me. He thought I was his English professor from Temple. We talked, sensing the connection that so often comes of accident. It seemed we were both going to Philly that weekend, he to play basketball, me to read from my work about losing memory.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis and I walked Philly, talked Philly (with Brian Teare and Bob Perelman/Francie Shaw and others) and I read from DB2 at the Penn Book Center. Then the return to DC to read in the In Your Ear series, and to see friends again.

I'm now on Maui with my daughter and her soccer club (yesterday she had a breakaway goal and a fine assist). Back in the present tense, albeit on another island. Emotions yanked back to now, which is not to say they are any stronger. The emotions involved in time travel seemed more intense, as they were so involved with what was not there. We are here, now. The mynas are screaming, the weed whacker has gone, children's voices fill the hallway.

The man in AMOUR smothers his wife after telling her a story from his childhood, stroking her hand as he does.  On-line comments from "he's a Nazi" to "what an act of love." He grows more and more isolated in his caregiving. His wife loses more and more of her spite, which seems a large part of who she was. There are no judgments to be made. Should have could have doesn't exist in such extremity.


No comments: