Saturday, August 25, 2007

Once Upon a Memory

On September 23, Bob will be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA. More importantly, it will be our twelfth wedding anniversary. Those of you who are relative newlyweds, take note. Those of you who’ve been married many more years, please give me some words of assurance: tell me the Swiss-cheese holes in my memory will begin to fill in along about year fifteen, and I will always remember all the best and sweetest things from our marriage, because right now, I’m beginning to wonder exactly when Mr. Alzheimer began sneaking in through the back door.

This week, it got very cold here in Connecticut for a few days, which means it was perfect weather for tackling the attic in preparation for our upcoming move (only a month away now), a space we’ve been loathe to tackle in 92-degree heat. Although Bob has been dreading the attic for reasons other than the heat, I’ve had a much more blasé attitude towards it, assuming we don’t have much up there. I visit the attic on a regular basis to return and deposit suitcases (that is, when I don’t just dump them in the little space on our second-floor landing, right at the top of the stairs, with the thought, “I’m leaving again in [2, 5, 10…] days. Why bother to lug them all the way up there?”). And I visit it twice a year: once to drag summer clothes up while dragging winter clothes down and once to drag winter clothes up while dragging summer clothes down. So we have a few suitcases and some off-season clothes up there. Should be a piece of cake to bring down that stuff and organize it for the movers.

Well, quite obviously, over the course of twelve years, those suitcases have been sneaking around mail-ordering boxes of junk to keep them company. The clothes have been reproducing at the rate of couples during wartime. And it must be the squirrels we often see lolling around on our back deck or leaping from rooftop to tree branch in the front yard who've mistaken memories with nuts the way they’ve crept into our attic to transform it into a time capsule in preparation for lean winter months.

Needless to say, the half hour I thought it was going to take us to get things down from the attic and sort through them is going to take a half year. Also, I have a terrible confession to make. Here, for twelve years, I’ve been accusing Bob of being the packrat in our house, when all he’s really been is the packrat who keeps all his “necessities” easily accessible in his cluttered nest, while I’m the packrat who’s been sequestering all her “necessities” in a separate little nest where they’ve been out of the way.

But I have an even worse confession to make. I’ve forgotten some very precious memories, things I’m sure back in 1995 I would have told you I’d never forget. There’s nothing like a box labeled “memories,” more than half of whose contents have been completely forgotten, to highlight this shortcoming. I always wondered what had happened to all those brochures I’d collected on our honeymoon. And there’s the still shrink-wrapped scrapbook I bought where I was going to glue them all with commentary for Bob for our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. Oops.

We can forget about the long fax sent to Bob when he was on a business trip that began, “I’m so hurt by you, because…” (immediately tossed on the recycle pile by both of us, having read no further. Why did he save that?), but how could we possibly have forgotten we’d made to-do lists with sweet messages on them leading up to our wedding day? Why don’t I have any memories at all of riding that steam train in Hawai’i that we so obviously rode? The worst thing to have forgotten, though, was the manila envelope.

The manila envelope was addressed to no one, but had this written under its flap, in my handwriting, “Relax and enjoy. Anything that could possibly go wrong now is out of our hands. I’ll see you walking down the aisle.” I’m sorry, but if it hadn’t been written in my own, very recognizable handwriting, I would have been wondering: who was this wise woman with whom Bob once walked down the aisle, and how come he never told me about that first wife?

But it gets worse than that. Obviously, this was something I’d given him that he was to open the morning of our wedding (we did the whole, old-fashioned, don’t-see-each-other-before-the-ceremony thing). Inside were type-written copies of the two readings Bob had chosen (we surprised each other, each choosing readings that the other didn’t know about until the ceremony) that he’d obviously slipped inside this envelope for safe-keeping, and behind those was a fairytale I’d written just for him. Yes, I wrote a fairytale for my husband as a wedding gift (it’s dedicated to him at the top, again in my handwriting, with “all my love on our wedding day”), and I had absolutely no recollection of it until this week. Not only that, but when I read the story, which is chock-full of in-jokes and details from those months of dating leading up to our engagement and wedding, I found myself wondering how long it had taken me to forget I’d written this. Twelve years later, I vividly remember the new suitcase full of new clothes I’d carefully chosen for our honeymoon (including a bathrobe that matched mine) that I’d assumed was the only wedding gift I’d given him. This far-more unique and precious gift, as far as I’m concerned, was a complete blank until now. I bet when I wrote it, it was the gift I thought I’d remember forever.

Well, all I can say is couples should either move or clean out their attics more often than once every twelve years. Maybe the divorce rate in this country would drop. Right now, I can’t think of anything that sparks up a twelve-year-old marriage better than a long-forgotten fairytale written especially as a wedding gift from an excited bride to her groom. It’s enough to inspire a twelve-year anniversary tale all about the long-forgotten tale.


Anonymous said...

My mom kept all of the emails that I sent to her while I was in college. As I was unpacking two weeks ago, I discovered them, and rediscovered my college self. I had forgotten so many things, and it was amusing (to say the least) to see how I described my husband (then boyfriend) to my parents! Although I'm quite glad to leave those years behind me, it was a fun trip down memory lane...

Anonymous said...

Dan and I have a hard time every year remembering both Valentine's Day and our anniversary. Several years in a row one of us has said, "You know what? It was our anniversary/Valentine's Day yesterday/last week!" But somewhere buried in a desk drawer is a poem Dan wrote to me that was his marriage proposal. I think I should probably look for it.

Rebecca said...

Mike and I have all the letters and notes that we wrote before I moved over here. I have to say that we kept them less for romantic reasons than for the fact that we might have needed them for the immigration procedure. I read through some of them recently and I was surprised at how much I've already forgotten. We were so romantic!

Rebecca H. said...

Oh, how romantic! Only you could turn forgetfulness into romance :)

Emily Barton said...

Sarah, somewhere, my mom apparently has all the letters all of her children ever wrote to her. I have to admit, I'm a little afraid of that stack.

Linser, now I don't feel so bad that I can never, ever remember when yours and Dan's anniversary is.

Becky, I don't need the letters to know how romantic you two were!

Dorr, hmm, that would be a good trait to hold onto, don't you think, as it's sure to help make old age much more pleasant?

Froshty said...

My packrat tendencies are really annoying. Did I keep the e-mail that Wayne sent me after our first date that said he was "dazzled" by me? Nope. Do I have the poem he wrote for me after he thought about me on a bike ride? Nope. He saved the ticket to "The Secret Garden," which is the play we went to see on our first date (almost 9 years ago). I threw mine out by accident. Instead, all I find are credit card bills for credit cards I've already paid off or the envelope for some flowers he sent me in 2003, but not the card inside, which is long gone. And even though I remember dates as they approach (like the first anniversary of our first date), on the actual day, odds are I'll be so caught up in some issue at IBM that I'll forget it. I remember your anniversary Emily and I also remember that one of your readings for Bob was "The Anniversary Song," because I typed out the lyrics for you using my computer at IIE.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm wondering what I have forgotten in the 25 years we have been together.

mandarine said...

There are a thousand pages of love letters and three volumes of manuscript diaries starting in 1991 and ending in 1996 just across the room, at the bottom of the bookshelf, just screaming to be re-read.

It is going to take tremendous effort not to give in before the eleventh anniversary in October.

Emily Barton said...

Now, see, Froshty? I'd completely forgotten you'd typed that up for me until now. Speaking of IIE, we also came across an old business card of Cliff's (sorry to say, we didn't save it).

Ms. Hands, take a look around your attic, if you have one, and see what you can find. Then surprise Mr. Hand.

Mandarine, wish I had as extensive a record as you do.