I attended a creative writing class a couple of weeks ago. It was fairly basic: the stuff you’d learn in the first few sessions of an introductory college Fiction or Creative Writing class, all scrunched into one employer-funded weekday away from the grind of the office. Aside from its value as a reprieve from the stress of everyday, the class granted me a newfound obsession, triggered by a prompt to write about a memory of a pivotal life moment.
What and how and how much do we remember?
We remember that things happened, but how often do we remember exactly what happened?
Since the class, I’ve been wracking my brain to dredge up memories — small, big, important, trivial, whatever. I’ve written some down in detail, some in brief. Some I’ve just thought about for a while.
Instead of taking EXIT 53 to CENTRAL AVE/K-96, I kept left at 78 miles per hour, leaning against the Turnpike’s straightening near the southeast corner of the city. I coasted right at EXIT 50 to KELLOGG AVE/US-54/400, paid my five and change and rounded the raised half-shamrock off-ramp. My tires met Kellogg at road speed and headed west past the shuttered Kmart and three miles of cracked-pavement fields and light-leaking suburban back windows. One mile past the green lawn and red brick of the VA Hospital, my hands pulled right toward GROVE ST.
As my off-white Volvo lurched to a whining stop just short of the red light overhead, I pressed the button on the center console (Window Down) and turned the dial counter-clockwise to the click (Radio Off). The wind didn’t make a sound as it whipped my face with heat from some east-running source.
I drove north on Grove past the baseball diamonds and tennis courts of East High, breathing in the heavy summer of the city that reared me. Its dilapidated cinder-block and vinyl war-era housing the same ailing yellow and overcast grey as the apartment I shared with my last — my current — father, after they found me, after my mother left, before I left.
At Central, I turned west, passing the building where my childhood dentist’s office offered a 19th-story exposition of the concrete-tree patchwork. I crossed the river, tree-draped and bike path-lined on either side and stopped my mind to remember losing a baseball into the teeth of the Arkansas 10 years and 100 yards from now and here. I followed Central’s curves through empty Riverside Park. It became Seneca just outside sight’s range of the Keeper of the Plains. A right on McLean and a quick left on Fern on my phone’s advice, my right foot pushed to a stop. Across the street sat what the state said was the last address of my first mother. A weary brown ranch. A basketball goal in the driveway.
I took my foot off the brake and gave the engine just enough gas.