On Memory: the Importance of Moments

By Kate Featherston


When you’re a kid, you don’t realize it when a Moment is happening. At age six, you can stand at the window as your dad climbs a ladder high into a tree to cut down a dead branch, and you can watch him suddenly twist and fall and swiftly slice open his right thigh with the bow saw, and you can be freaked out by all of his wincing and cursing and by the helplessness of your mom’s panicked tears, but you go to bed that night — maybe a little shaken up from all the blood, maybe a little concerned about the possibility of nightmares — and you have no idea that 25 years later, you’ll still be able to replay the entire scene in your mind. You’ll be able to smell the wet moss outside all over again, and feel the cold window screen pressed against your nose and lips. You’ll catch yourself replaying the sound of the ladder clattering to the driveway as your dad screams “Whoa — fuck! FUCK!”, and as if it just happened five minutes ago you’ll see the blood slowly seeping through torn denim and spreading across a wad of paper towels.

As an adult, you’ll identify these Moments as they occur. You’ll immediately recognize the feeling of your brain frantically recording, permanently stitching every detail into the fabric of your memory whether you want it there or not. At age 29, when you find yourself stuck in traffic with your sister in the pouring rain at 10 p.m. on your way home from your brother’s apartment where you just found out that, no, he didn’t overdose on heroin, but, based on the pool of dried blood on the kitchen floor, the suspiciously ripped-out ceiling fan, the shreds of torn canvas littered throughout the living room and the colossal slip-up of the tactless downstairs neighbor, clearly he actually hung himself with a mangled sleeping bag, and your stepdad lied to you, and there are no words, and on the miserable drive home Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That” is blaring so loudly from the car speakers that you and your sister can’t even hear each other sob.

By that point in life, you’re able to recognize this as a Moment, and you know that no matter how hard you try, it’ll never get erased. It’s all with you for good: the blurry brake lights, the dry blast of heat from the car vents, the overpowering vanilla air freshener you got for Christmas four weeks earlier, and a really good fucking song that you know right away will be fucking ruined for fucking ever, but you’ll still keep listening to it whenever you feel a certain way, because why not? Even if you don’t, it’ll be playing in your brain just as loudly as it was on the car stereo at 10 p.m. on January 23, 2012, while you inched along 95 North and tried desperately to console yourself, steel yourself, explain to yourself that this is never, ever going to go away.