Matt Freese

Memory Traces

I went to Starbucks on Sunday because I had an attack of spilkes. I ordered a grande cappuccino and a piece of cinnamon cake, most of which I threw away because I had to begin fasting for a blood test the next day, my semi-annual anxiety trip. In addition, my physician retired with very short notice to all his patients, without a letter, just employing a nurse to  inform me that the doctor was “tired” (he’s in his seventies). It was a very sloppy way of ending a medical relationship, but this is Nevada, a Third World country, especially in terms of medicine. This is a time in which professionalism is absent, rotten manners are prevalent, and Presidents gather tribally like maggots to praise George Bush and his new library. Only in America do we praise and honor a war criminal.  After all, we rehired Nazi scientists to help us against the Russkies (check out Werner von Braun and his use of slave labor at Peenemunde).

So I had to scramble about to get another doctor of unknown attributes and recommended by my cardiologist. (You know you are ageing when you have a cardiologist.) All of this backstory to amble into what has been mesmerizing me of late. Probably a reflection of being 72, cherishing each day as if it was my last, which it really could be. I am not entertaining a bucket list, which is American jargon for not having lived. Americans, most people, would not know what it is to live if it was a suppository shoved up their ass. Bucket lists are for conditioned schmucks, the last and intensive advertisement to be “meaningful” in life, using life rather than living it.

What goes through my mind are memories, remembrances and regrets. And there is nothing to do about these reminiscences except to tear up a little, gag, suck on the lollipop of ruefulness, feel sad for oneself. Here are a few snippets:

I recall my now deceased daughter, Caryn, at the age of four. She had her hair closely cropped by her mother, and it took me a moment to begin to adjust to that when I picked her up for a day with her father. I wish I had told her how sweet, adorable and how she was important to me. However, that is me now as an old man; then I was a stupid man, self-involved and needy. Mindful of that wise adage that says we grow old too soon and smart too late.

I recall when my now-estranged daughter, Brett, now 41, was in her crib and I picked up one of her pudgy hands and examined each of her fingers. I placed one finger against one of my mine and realized how dwarfed her baby’s hand was in comparison. I savor that memory because it is time now in which she will not extend her hand to me as a father. Oh, insupportable loss.

The list goes on and on: of lost opportunities, but what ravishes like hail against a field of wheat is the immense rush of time and the accumulative weight of years “lived” – were they ever, truly lived? – and how I have this tsunami coming at me from the past, all kinds of tender recollections, especially bittersweet, of hands I could have clasped, of embraces of my children made and not made, of running my hand through their hair, of telling them how dear they are to me. I am part of a very stupid species. And I have been very stupid in life.

My genes force me to go on. My mind says no. I lose out.

I am living with a kind of amazement at how much time has flowed by, of how I am an old man – and when did that happen? Of how to spend each day as if it is my last, of how to suck out the marrow of each day without going bananas or becoming American frenetic. I am sensing an immense need to return or give back, either as a teacher or in a relationship; for there is much in returning what one knows as a sharing of what wisdoms or smarts obtained over the decades. Erickson labeled it “generativity.” Whether or not it has an impact on another person really is not the issue for me. It is in the giving that there is some kind of last meaning as I taper off like a jet’s vapor trail.

Ironically I responded to an ad from the University of Las Vegas in its summer 2013 catalog asking if they might be interested in my teaching a course on memoir. After making a contact via the phone, I forwarded a resume and other pertinent materials, and now I’ll wait. I have absolutely no expectations at all, not in this state. However, using my own book as a text would give me some pleasure, even fun, but we shall see. Meanwhile as I drift into deep old age in which I will be cultivating a patient expectancy, to quote Chesterton, about death and dying I will pick up my Louisville Slugger bat and take a few hard swings at the incoming misfortunes heading my way.

All this brings me back to reminiscences. The memory traces of my life are unfolding in my mind, the movies of my mind, 24/7, and I lack – I admit so – the ability, the skill and the knowledge to make heads or tails what it was all about – that still eludes me. I hear the plaintive notes of “What’s it all about, Alfie?”




Matt is a writer who lives in Nevada.  He’s the author of The i Tetralogy, Down to a Sunless Sea and This Mobius Strip of Ifs.  Visit his blog.