Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ray-Ray and the Impersistence of Memory

For me, one of the more meaningful, gratifying and healing shiva visits paid to my brother's house last week was by my childhood friend Rachael and her husband Mike. Rachael was the first girl my age whom I met when we moved to New Jersey. She and her family the Peterpauls lived next door, having moved there a few weeks before us, so we were all new to the neighborhood together. Ray-Ray, as many of us called her tentatively when we were far enough away not to get our heads bitten off, was the oldest of seven siblings in that raucous household. I adored her, and was intensely jealous of her beauty and poise and ability to get things done.

And to an extent I still am. Rachael (and to this day I insist that's the only "proper" way to spell the name) is now a published author and environmental activist who uses her non-profit organization to involve local kids in an African Community Assistance program, working to organize borehole drilling and different types of water pump installs into schools that have no running water. She also heads up a youth action group and the Earth Murals project, "dedicated to involving children in all fifty states (and other countries) in the creation of murals that focus on recycling and giving back to the earth." She was always great with us kids even when she was one of us, organizing us into groups to travel hither and yon throughout the neighborhood, something else I probably took from her.

But something I don't have any more is her memory. She started reminiscing about the old days in Roselle, saying "Do you remember when we used to go to the school to see the plays and then come home and act them out?" And I admitted I didn't. I believed her that we did all the stuff she remembers us doing, of course, but I can no longer access those memories myself. This has been an increasing source of frustration in recent years, which really hit home hard during the period which is after all dedicated to healing via remembering the loved one.

What I have more than anything else is vague visual impressions. When Rachael prompted, "Do you remember playing kickball in your back yard?" I sorta did, but what I actually saw in my memory came out as "the pear tree was first base, the garden was second base, and the gap in the hedges in between our house and yours was third" because I could picture how things looked, but not necessarily what we were doing. I see myself as a girl standing on our back porch looking out at that yard, over and over again, but I'm not seeing anyone doing anything. My uncle observed that it's as though all my specific action-oriented memories are in a locked file cabinet and I've lost the key.

I don't know where or when that key got misplaced. Maybe when I went away to college, or moved out of Roselle for good, or got married, or changed jobs. I only know that I want, I need to find that key again. I think Dad's death triggered access to a couple of files, but not much more. I have no idea what will trigger the opening of the entire cabinet, but it has to happen. And one of the ways I'm determined to make it happen is by becoming close with Ray-Ray again, by once more holding onto the reality of this remarkable woman who was once a remarkable girl. And who sees depths in me that I've yet to plumb myself.

I've always trusted Rachael in the past. She's never steered me wrong -- that I remember. If someone like this believes in me, who am I not to believe in myself? I want to be around Rachael when I rediscover the memories of all the things I did which made me who I was, and who I am. Set a couple places at the table for us, Rachael, we're coming to visit real soon!