When you ask me if I remember a particular day or person, I either remember nothing or I remember every little detail from how much ketchup you had on your French fries to how many strands of hair hung in your face to the exact number of clouds in the sky that day. I soak up the moments that matter to me ferociously. If you are part of one of these recollections, you mean (0r sometimes meant) the world to me.
I take all prisoners. Everything my senses gather up from that day or moment stays etched into the inside of my skull in quick and tiny chicken scratch all over. And it only makes sense to me. Even the silly things from when I was a child that only a child could be excited about. Like that Barbie whose head had popped off and her hair was cut into an uneven bob and colored in with orange lipstick and her body had white scuff marks and she was a little more tan than my other Barbies. I would squeeze her head back on but she had no neck. She was originally a mermaid. It’s like I am holding her now. I can pull them out as if they happened this morning. Usually it just takes a word or a name. Or I am physically in a place with someone recounting when I had been there with someone else. People like this about me because I can vividly put them back in a place where they, too, were having a good time, or were just younger, or healthier, or freer. And for those who weren’t there, they can become part of my journey.
But there are also the memories that my senses themselves remind me of. It is the gift of story-telling to myself that I sometimes need to remain positive. In times of pure insanity, my senses are heightened. I am an empath after all. But they pick up anything around me to shake in my face and say REMEMBER THIS.
Like when my boyfriend made his own sauce and suddenly my living room became my mother’s kitchen anytime between 1991 and 1999. It is a red and white, mod yet simple kitchen, mostly white with red detail. And the white counters beside the stove are obliterated with tomato sauce. I mean, my grandfather just started cooking and already the shit is caked on there. He stands there in front of the oven, a hefty Italian man, not so tall; his big-rimmed glasses, aviator looking in shape, peering over a small metal pot that is over-flowing with the contents of a generically-Italian-named glass jar of sauce. And it is seasoned, but not how your nonna does it (though I am sure it had the same class and ingredients as your nonna’s would; he had an Italian mother after all). More like how a young bachelor does it, with a kick. I know because you could smell the red pepper flakes. No fancy placement for them here in this recollection, they were just EVERYWHERE.
Angelo is wiping his one hand on his black slacks while the other brings his spoon to his lips. The bubbles in the pot are spraying sauce along the brown stripes of his shirt that is stretched over his Santa belly (certifiably the most comfy place for any grand daughter who wants twenty shark stories before bed). The bit of sauce still on his mouth he wipes with his handkerchief and shoves it back in his pocket. Bringing his hand to the small know on the stove top, with a twist the flame makes a clicking sound and then disappears.
A few of these times he ate atop a 500-piece puzzle we were completing that was hidden under a tablecloth. Or next to a deck of cards on which he would teach me to play rummy AGAIN (I still need it explained EVERY time). And after that, sometimes I would get all the shark stories. Or I would just hear him cursing creatively at the Met game while I called it a night for school the next day. And then as I sit here recounting this memory, I am transported to the afternoon he put my Barbie dream house together. From the overcast outside, to watching The Grinch and Scooby Doo, to my sister’s boyfriend coming over that day. And my mother was off from work, too.
The moment I smelled that smell in my own space, I paused for quite a few seconds and allowed it to wash over me. I had not smelled that since the last time he had cooked it, a day I don’t remember and did not care to keep track of. He has been dead for almost 15 years. I have now been alive longer than he knew me. But my own sense, my very own body, was pulling out this very scent and bringing him to mind. It said, “Look! Look at the love you came from! Look around your house and smile! Stop panicking. Stop crying. Remember that things are working themselves out.”
My grandfather was the closest thing I had to a dad. He would definitely be the part of me I would look to for peace and guidance. He would always say to me,
you are too pretty to cry.”