Forgetting

“You know him, but you probably don’t remember his mom, she was an…” This is how stories begin in my parent’s home. I do not. It has been decades since her son and I shared a playground in middle school.

Decades.

The children we once knew have grown, moved, married, and are contemplating children. Some parents, like mine, remain in old circles and wonder at our forgetfulness.

The loss is not intentional. Rather too great is the world, too many are the people. We do not mean to surrender these memories of childhood, they are forced from us by the onslaught of days. To manage we devote our meager resources to our current locations, to our new homes. On the East Coast for a few days of stories and family, I learn of another method, long practiced, for defeating the limits of memory.

My father’s parents drive me south to Philadelphia. We have scant trips like this together and many things to share, tales of those gone and those unable to join us. We alternate between the two as the miles pass. Sometimes we speak of our future desires, my own hopes to visit Scotland this fall among them.

“It’s really beautiful out at the north edge of Scotland,” says my grandfather, “I forget the name of the town, I’d have to look at my notes. Anyway, you ride along…”

In an astonishing moment an entire world previously unknown appears to me, revealed after decades. The same decades that have hidden my childhood companions suddenly contain copious detail, personal history, the travel of those with no limits on time.

“Notes?” I ask, thinking of my poor scribbled collection of memories from earlier travels, from years abroad.

“From everywhere we’ve ever been,” he says.

“Every night when we get back to the hotel,” adds my grandmother, “he writes while I read my book.” With that my own urge to organize and record no longer seems so strange. The first image I see is of our cruise in two thousand six, me writing in a lounge high on the ship late in the evenings, others having retired to their cabins. I imagine him sitting at a table, looking out over the Mediterranean, writing.

A day later I have copies of his notes from three weeks spent in Scotland in nineteen ninety four and can add format and handwriting to my imagined evenings. The notes are in a kind of short hand, and the hours driving together lend me the sound of his voice as I read them, which I do for much of my plane flight home.

9/10 Saturday Stayed – Toured Hadrian’s Wall – Housesteads Roman Ft. (high on ridge, impressive remains & views, walked wall – really windy)

Almost twenty years ago. As with so many written things I picture a book of these travel diaries, with appendixes that list the miles traveled per day, that list the names of each hotel, as they are recorded on the paper in front of me. I see a book of things forgotten and yet not lost.

We have a finite memory. Most things slide in and out. Relationships, good times with old friends, one-time travels to distant lands, even these drift from our fingertips though we do not mean to let them. What then of the details of Japan, of Shanghai, of our travels, houses, kitten? On the bus home from the airport I think of this site, of my attempts to record time and place, and vow to continue. Looking down again at his notes as I sit in the fog of San Francisco I am amazed at the details so long forgotten and so quickly returned to hand.

 

Be not lost

In June friends arrive in San Francisco. By car, from Colorado via new Orleans, via California, via Houston. Late in the evening we joke that we are growing older in years and traveling in circles. Like everyone.

Many things have changed since our last cohabitation. We live in San Francisco, for one. We have jobs, cars, and a kitten. The later of which rampages around the living room, doing small flips. Our guest is thankfully without allergies and with patience, for Mr. Squish uses small paws to the face to test new accomplices. She passes his four am challenges and we spend days wandering, exploring this city again. San Francisco is gracious. May’s gorgeous weather lingers into June. The week is seventy degrees and filled with sunshine. Eighty. Eighty five. We bask, we dance, and we celebrate the company of those without schedules. We cook and discuss fish. It is a marvelous week of knowing a place well enough to be a guide and yet not well enough to be bored doing so. I wonder if this summer will be the peak of this city. Is.

And we amble home through the park in the fog which finally, long past midnight, creeps in.

In June a friend asks for guidance on the trains of Japan. Our recent adventures allow the specifics to come easily to mind. Deeper, though, lies the layer of comfort that comes from living there. I wonder how to impart this specific kind of familiarity with locations, with lines and names. Born of taking the Saikyo line home every day for two years, of walking dozens of times between Shibuya and Harajuku, of bicycling to Omiya in the dark, it is difficult to explain. The trains in from Narita, the NEX or Keikyu, retain the memories of old journeys home, jet lagged upon return from America, from Italy. Without these they would be meaningless words leading to places unknown.

The details do fade. Without the recent trip I would have known few restaurants from a decade ago. Without our long evening walks in February from this new apartment I would not know so many restaurants in San Francisco, in the Richmond district. Yet I am not lost here in San Francisco. I was not lost in Tokyo this spring.

With this realization, and the challenge of helping friends discover places I have been, I remember my own goal from years and countries back: to keep moving until I am comfortable arriving anywhere.

To keep exploring until I am not lost.