Unforgettable (#204)

JPEGS and other image files eat up a lot more memory than text files do, as Jim discovered when he was transferring digitized versions of some old slides from his hard drive to a flash drive that soon reached its storage capacity. (We went to Target for another drive.) The slides (which Jim uses in teaching his course on the Formation of Modern American Culture) are of now-iconic images that stay in your mind: Chuck Berry and his guitar, the Kent State shootings, Nixon and Elvis shaking hands, the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

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At 7.15am this morning, Charlie saw an image that reminded him of something he would, we realize more and more, like to forget.

It was my first day back teaching after the month-long break between the semesters. I was rushing to cut a green apple for Charlie’s lunch, review my notes for a new class, find Charlie’s hat and vest. I put on the brown sweater and tweed skirt I often wear for work.

Charlie had woken up before 7am and was sitting on the blue couch, half-wrapped in Daddy’s blue blanket. He had requested "Mommy stairs" but I can no longer carry him down. I draped his blanket round his shoulders: "Mom’s going to go down first." Charlie stared out the window at our snowy backyard before clomping down.

I was getting some coffee when I heard it.

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, my head cried as I ran from the kitchen and there was loudness and tears and, finally, a big, big hug. And a grinning boy running over the icy grass to his schoolbus: "Bye Mommy!"

One glimpse in the mirror before heading out the door and I remembered how often must Charlie have waved "bye!" to me in this sweater and skirt before walking into his old school, and before the school nurse called.

That is how strong the power of association is for Charlie. Things can be linked to ideas and memories for him just because they occur together: Mom in that sweater and that skirt means old school means behavior problems. Mom in that sweater and that skirt must mean it’s old school not new school.

From the time the red school bus pulled up, Charlie was peaceful. School was good and, though he was unsettled when his new babysitter asked him several questions as he was eating an afternoon snack, he recovered quickly and we ran off for an ice-stomping walk before a fast trip to (yes, again) Target for those daily essentials in Autismland, Kleenex and a laminator. I went to a special-ed parents’ meeting about NCLB and IDEA and Charlie played catch, built blocks, and read The Cat In the Hat with Sam.

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"We had a great time!" said Sam happily when I came in. "We really bonded and he came over to sit with me and read."

Charlie took The Cat In the Hat to bed (along with Bunny, "Barney white" (a purple Beanie Baby bear), several squish pillows and his dog sleeping bag). He flipped through the book before lying down on his belly, hands clasped together beneath him. "Night."

Does Charlie bring all that stuff to bed so he won’t lose track of it—won’t have to forget it? So he’ll know that all those things and the good memories associated with each item will stick with him? So he can preserve certain key moments in his 8 1/2 year history in the archive of his bed?

Sam has babysat for Charlie on and off over the past two years and once fretted to me when the lively boy who ran after him to play tag stimmed, stimmed and stimmed, and would not play anything. Tonight and all throughout the day for me, Charlie was one connected boy who kept looking for my eyes and fixing me with serious looks.

History is change over time, I have been told. Charlie’s times, they are a-changin’, getting better all the time and you can be sure, change for Charlie is not merely good. Change makes new memories and maybe change can help him learn how to forget, just a little bit.

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Comments
3 Responses to “Unforgettable (#204)”
  1. Lisa says:

    Kristina–I think you touch on something very profound about memory and association. Certain books, songs, images are powerful memory triggers for me. One of the reasons I don’t tolerate movies with intense visuals.

    On the flip side, those associations are the trigger for my poetry.

    The challenge is to manage the associations so that I don’t get stuck. It’s like having a fragment of a song stuck in your head–when that happens, I can either sing the song all the way through, or listen to a different song.

    Thinking of you.
    best,
    lisa

  2. Eileen says:

    That is so amazing how the outfit you were wearing could trigger his memory that way. I am glad that the red bus was able to get him back on track to knowing that he was off to his new school and not the old one. Hopefully those memories will all fade for him and will all be replaced with new happy ones.

    Also nice how he bonded with the babysitter!

  3. Wade Rankin says:

    As always, a great post that makes me appreciate the profundity we can find in the simplest things.

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