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Sunday, January 30, 2011

oil-based and/or gouache memories

So here we are.
I was having dinner with two college friends last night, and we were marveling at the things and people we chose to remember, as opposed to the things and people we simply forgot, by choice or not. 
For instance, I remember that I’d learned to play 500 in college (a stressful experience if I recall, as evidenced by my mood ring turning jet black in the course of my learning until I finally got a grasp on the game) and that my friends and I spent many hours in our dorm suite playing 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-handed variations, listening to INXS and David Bowie, or underground recordings that Laura’s then-fiancĂ© Jeff (who worked for Rykodisc at the time) would pass along to her. I remember the concrete walls, the bolted-down furniture, the Handi-Snacks, and the faces of everyone behind the cards (that included 11s, 12s and 13s). 
But I don’t remember how to play. At all.
And on Friday, I found myself recalling pockets of another memory, a memory I had not thought about in many years, but that I still saw vividly in my mind:

I was a freshman in high school, sick with some sort of 24-hour bug, all alone in the house. Parents at work, sister at school, all quiet and cold save for our lone television, tuned to The Price is Right. I was set up on the sofa in our living room, shivering and miserable. I had just staggered into the kitchen to make some Lipton Cup-a-Soup, and I can still see those little green specks of parsley dancing among the tiny, twiggy noodles in that cloudy chicken-sans-chicken broth when I looked down at my mug. I nursed it through all of the pricing games. It was so salty. 
I finished my mug-a Cup-a and realized that I’d exhausted my last bits of strength by lifting the mug to my mouth in so many reps. Thankfully, the coffee table was in arm’s reach, and I set it down.
It was at this point that everyone in television land was about to find out who had won the Showcase. Not that I’d been heavily invested in the show or the contestants (that concentration had been on the soup), but I recall being frustrated when Bob Barker’s big reveal was interrupted by a CBS Special Report. 
Had Reagan been shot again? I’d come home from school to that report five years earlier, and the only thing that was burned into my brain about that afternoon was hearing “James Brady is dead” and “James Brady is not dead” and me not knowing who James Brady was but still being concerned about the death or not death of someone named Brady. It was 1981, after all. Marcia and Jan had just gotten married.
But no. The space shuttle Challenger had exploded.
And from noon until 3 PM, it kept on exploding, over and over again, with the rolling and re-rolling of the footage. My eyes glassy, my brain scrambled and sad, I stared blankly at the images that repeated and repeated ad nauseum. 
Literally, ad nauseum. After the first twenty minutes of coverage, my stomach began to turn at the sight and the sound. And all I could do was roll over, turn my body away from the set, and try to cover my head with our ancient yellow, brown and orange crocheted afghan to try to block it out. 
You see, I had no remote control - this being a lower-middle class home in 1986 - and no strength to get up and turn off the set. In fact, I was afraid that the slightest movement on my part might cause all of those tiny, twiggy noodles and parsley flakes to find their way back to the mug. So I lay frozen on the sofa in the fetal position while the news droned on behind me, and the shuttle kept exploding into a cloudy Y in the sky.
But after the rest of my family started to come through the door at 3PM, I remember nothing about the rest of the night: if the noodles stayed where they were supposed to, or whether I pressed my luck with another Cup-a them for dinner, or when the exploding finally stopped. I can imagine that my sister was upset to find out that not only had the shuttle exploded, but that General Hospital had been pre-empted. But I do not know this for certain. That memory fades to black.
You can argue that it was a long time ago. But why does the floating parsley loom so large? 
I’ll never know. But I do know why I felt a little nauseous on Friday... and only partially because of the realization that 25 years had passed.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.


  1. This is the saddest thing I've ever read. Especially after realizing that I don't remember how to play either.

  2. Oddly enough, I, too, was watching the Price is Right that morning. During that time, space shuttle launches had become so commonplace and taken for granted that only CNN had live coverage. I switched to CNN during a commercial and watched the liftoff only for about a minute or less. Satisfied that all was okay, I went back to CBS. Only during the next commercial break, when I saw plumes of smoke on CNN, did I realize something had happened. I had missed seeing it live by only a minute or two. Guess it proves we should never take life (or anything) for granted.

  3. I wasn't alive then (I'm a thick-headed young'n) but my mom was and she was so affected by this that she named me after Christa McAuliffe, the teacher aboard who was killed. I probably would not have even been aware of this event had she not been my namesake - none of my friends know about it.