For a long time the person I used to be wondered what he would remember. He took photos to invite recollection, and put songs on repeat in foreign hotel rooms to build clear trigger points. Looking back now these were the tactics of someone on the go, someone with little stability in their day-to-day.
Of course they were.
One factory looks much like any other, and one hotel room likewise. Evenings spent alone in third tier Chinese cities quickly blend into one another. The songs playing in each room, then, the books read over dinner, or the long walks around unknown neighborhoods late at night can easily become the trip’s defining moments. Days spent in conference rooms, while productive, rarely lend themselves to emotional recall. Certainly less so than an evening spent looking up at the sky as it starts to rain outside the National Theater in Taichung while listening to Mariah the Scientist’s ‘Reminders’ on repeat.
Years later, the person I’ve become knows there’s another way to make memories: watch someone else change and work to remember the differences. I try to appreciate new abilities by recalling what was impossible last week. For a long time, a few weeks, I watch 5’s try to raise one knee high enough to get onto the lower of our two sofas. Suddenly one morning she can do it, the strength or the flexibility, the height or coordination, whatever was lacking, now present. Her smile as she turns, that first time, and claps to show me her new seated position on the couch, that’s a memory worth holding tight. She still can’t make it onto the other couch, two inches higher. I wonder how long it will take.
The tradeoff, of course, is that I have no ability to place this memory in any context, no ability to remember what day, what age, or what I was doing otherwise. Much like the factory day in Taichung before my late night walk, where everything except the moment outside the theater has been lost. Memories like these are worn down by lack of sleep, by the pace of our life and the passage of time. All memory of which day she first climbed the sofa is likewise blurred, though it was only a week or two ago.
I still play music on repeat. Knowing it’s value I still try to build associations, triggers that will bring me back to these rainy typhoon days in Hong Kong, when 5’s is not yet one. These sounds or sights that might remind me of both adults working as hard as we can around our new responsibilities. These are lucky opportunities, two startups that might, just might have a chance, and we with the energy, the support, and the ability to grind while also playing sports, while also caring for our daughter. Barely, but we do.
And so after yoga on Friday I walk back towards the MTR station and home very slowly. In my ears Tracey Thorn sings songs I’ve never heard before, her first album with Ben Watt in twenty plus years. I listen with my whole body. Will these sounds bring back this spring, bring back Hong Kong, later and in other contexts? I can’t really know, but I hope so. I’d like to remember these rainy evenings, or her smile as she wakes. And I know my memory needs assistance, from years of helping it along, and months of sleeping less than I ought.