Monday, February 8, 2010

A Random Memory

This is the first part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that’s going on over at The Tenth Daughter of Memory.

Sunlight glints under a clear blue sky, glistens in long chestnut hair that frames a pale, perfect face.

She stands in front of me, smiling, eyes bright and shining. Long, elegant fingers hold her mortarboard in small, fine-boned hands as she leans in to kiss me. “Hi, Mommy.”

So tiny, so happy, so proud.

The scent of vanilla, coconut, and lily of the valley tickles my nose, tightens my chest with memory. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“That’s ok.” Her lips slide into a quiet smile, and I see the echoes of the child in the exquisite young woman she has become. “We just have to go.”

She turns and I fall into step. The staccato click of her stiletto heels pounds a backbeat on the pavement as we make our way over to State Street.

It’s more crowded here now, as we thread our way through the ebb and flow of the masses, the sea of black robes bobbing and weaving among the bodies wrapped in brightly colored fabric and finery.

The warm, mid-afternoon breeze stirs memories of late spring and the sun on my skin brings a full-body feeling of joy that anchors itself deep in my cells. An undercurrent of anticipation hums in the sun-warmed air like electricity.

I resist the urge to slide my hand around hers as we thread our way through the crushing throng. Once I had slowed, waited, her tiny hand in my mine as little legs struggled to keep up. Now I push hard not to slow her down as the rush hour traffic crawls by.

We catch a light and cross the street. The sounds of the city slip away as we climb the stairs to East Hall, push through the shiny glass and steel doors for our first stop on the evening’s program.

She herds me gently through the hallway into line.

I hate myself in pictures. They shame me. My hair is still pulled back in my teacher bun. It’s shot through with grey. There’s no makeup on my face to cover the unevenness of my skin, and I’m still in my teacher clothes.

But when she presses close I smile dutifully as our moment is captured for posterity. And then we’re off, down another hallway filled with bodies milling and gathering.

Her hand on my arm stops me and a long, elegant forefinger finds her name on the list on the wall, her achievements there for all to see.

I take the picture this time, so very careful to capture the cap and gown and the gentle curve of her smile as she stands there and I see her at five, so tiny, so happy, so proud, handing me her handprint for the refrigerator.

The memory shoots straight to my heart, my chest tightens and I can’t breathe. I lower the camera, hold it out to her.

She drops it into her bag without looking. “Want to get something to eat?”

I blink once and swallow, paint on my own smile. “Sure.”

We move down the hall shoulder to shoulder, make our way into the Psychology Atrium.

Crystal and silver gleam in the soft light spilling on white-robed tables, the dull murmur of muted conversation hums in the background as we follow the line snaking toward the Third Floor Terrace buffet.


The wind’s picked up. There’s a chill in the air and the clear blue sky has given way to a purple-pink as the sun slides lower on the horizon.

We flow with the river of people, down the sidewalk, up the white stone steps warmed by the last of the dying sun, into the Mendelssohn Theatre.

Soft, yellow light spills over the solid oak paneling, pools on the marble floor, the weight of a century of history and tradition pressing down on us as we negotiate our way down the hall for the evening’s La Celebración Latina.

There’s another line and more pictures. She slides her arm around my waist as mine goes around hers and we smile. The photographer shows us what we will look like and then we’re off, moving into a private dining room just off the hallway.

Another line, another buffet, set up along the far wall. There’s a trio playing softly in the corner of the room as we thread our way between the small groups of people seated around small-circle tables and those standing in groups.

I can tell that we’re late by what’s left on the table. I skip the salads and find the deserts, pull something that’s chocolate onto my plate, and turn, run my eyes over the room searching for a seat.

It’s been a long day. I’m tired and my feet hurt.

I find her. She’s found her friends.

Plate in hand, I watch her, the child who used to sit in my lap, and it’s a strange kind of time travel. She moves with such self-assured grace, quick kisses and hugs for everyone.

And when I look at her I see my life, my love, my dreams, my hope, the very best of me.

Her eyes come up and find me, and a delicate hand waves.

She introduces me to her friends, Roxanna and Paula, Claudia and Monica and their mothers from Ecuador and Venezuela and Mexico who don’t speak English.

I smile and nod and extend my hand and wonder what they’ve given up, what they’ve gone without to get their daughters here.

They’re calling us to line up again, parents and family in one line, graduates in another room. I check her cap and gown again before she leaves me and find my dutiful place in line.

We move in lockstep down the hall and into the darkened theatre. Running lights on the floor and the glow of the sconces on the walls guide us. I duck out of line and into a seat at the back of the theatre as the river of people flows past me.

The music starts and we stand, eyes glued to the doorways. My eyes run over the processional and finally she’s there, so tiny, so happy, so proud.

I blink against the crystalline sheen in my eyes as I take my seat and the speakers begin.

Welcome. Opening remarks. The student and keynote speakers. The awards.

I float on a river of memory. The images play in vivid technicolor and soundless, seamless progression in my mind, punctuated only by the sounds of laughter and applause.

And then it’s time. The Class stands and their names are called, loud and clear.

Tomorrow her father and brothers will sit beside me in the Big House for all the pomp and circumstance befitting a graduation. Tonight I sit wrapped up in my memories in the stillness and dark of an auditorium.

I hear her name and watch my little girl walk across the stage.


  1. Sweet and sad and at the same time hopeful: the sense of the past that's slipped away tempered by the consciousness of the future and the pride centered in the glowing figure of your daughter.

    I'm grateful you choose to share this memory with us.


  2. Hi, Nym. I'm the one that's grateful for all your enthusiasm and support and for your great insights that you so graciously share with me. I'm honored that you read me. :)

    Hi, Aurora, welcome. And thank you. I hope that's a good thing. :)

  3. *sniff!*

    that's a purdy piece you wrote for yourself~ for the girl~

    I like.

    ttfn, susan

  4. Beautifully poignant. Thanks for sharing it.

    And the river of memory references are gorgeous. There is a sense of sweep and flow, a feeling of gentle fluidity, as well as the universal. This is your memory, but it's also the memory of the other mothers; you give them the words.

  5. Hi. I found you via, Carol and Simon's blog.

    Congrats on winning the contest! Well done. Your entry was simply wonderful :)

  6. I love your shorts!! Congrats on the Cosmic Coincidences win :-) (Also, check your e-mail for Saradise stuff!!)

  7. I am moved by the bravery of what you've shared here. Thank you; anyone can "make up" a story. To show us a memory is something altogether more.

  8. Hi, Susan. I'm glad you liked this. It almost killed me to write. :)

    Hey, girl.

    And the river of memory references are gorgeous. There is a sense of sweep and flow, a feeling of gentle fluidity, as well as the universal. This is your memory, but it's also the memory of the other mothers; you give them the words.

    Thank you so much for making my writing sound so much better than it is. :) I have to admit I also love that imagery and the connections it conjures. I'm thrilled you got that from this.

    Hi, Wendy. I'm glad you came over and thank you so much.

    Hi, Sara. Thank you. I did see the email and I've been thinking about goals. There are seven more entries I have to write in this linked series before 2/21. Sounds like a goal to me. :)

    And I hope you're enjoying Miami. It's cold and snowing here, so I am way jealous. :)

  9. Hi, Eva.

    You posted while I was typing up my reply and I missed you. :)

    Thank you for the kind words. And thank you for everything else. You make my writing better, and I am grateful beyond belief you take the time to do that.

  10. You're welcome.

    You're too generous but I do appreciate it.

  11. Beautiful rendition of the "A Random Memory" theme. Beautiful.

    Very glad to have you at 10thDoM.

  12. Jeff, thank you so much. I don't know if I'll finish this challenge, I'm finishing the third muse today, but I was thrilled to find the 10th DoM. I'm looking forward to reading the other challenge entries.

  13. Hi, Amy. Hi, Nessa. Thank you both very much.