It's a funny thing. Memory. And how it works. A few weeks ago, when my mom was visiting, we retrieved her grandmother's antique desk out of the depths of our garage. I had been keeping it for her. We used it in our last place, a tiny little guest house in west L.A. But, here, in the spot we've called home for 9 years it had sat undisturbed in the garage. Or, so I remembered. Once it was out in the sunlight and had been dusted off, in preparation for loading into her car, E discovered a cache of letters and cards in the drop leaf section of the writing desk. The loot was mine. It also contained an old address book, a carryover from my single days...the cover a pink satin laced up bodice, hinting of oft dreamed debauchery.
Many of the cards were from my 40th birthday party in 2001. Somehow I had forgotten that my fortieth birthday had fallen 8 days after September 11th. I looked at the dates written on the cards and it was as if I was seeing it for the first time. Could it be? My 40th birthday just after nine-eleven? And yet, I had not remembered. Nor had I remembered that the desk had even been in this house -moved into the garage so that we could prepare the nursery in anticipation of BOY's arrival.
I do remember now a slight awkwardness, a wondering, if people would be up to celebrating my birthday so soon after what seemed like the world was on its way to the end... And, we decided that YES, it was a time to celebrate. Because we were alive. That having a party didn't negate all the people who had lost their lives. That it was OK to have some drinks, eat delicious food, and laugh with special friends. Because we could.
I don't know why my memory chose to selectively forget that not small detail. But, it did. There was another thing that happened that evening that should have stayed with me, yet only now comes to the surface as I am writing this. A close friend from my childhood in Beirut, who lives in Santa Monica, had driven out for my birthday. Parking on our street, he was questioned getting out of his car as to his intention...here. Lovely man that he is, he laughed it off in the telling. Yet, it was unnerving and uncomfortable that my friend was questioned as to where he was going by a "well intentioned" older neighbor, because my friend's skin is the color of dark caramel. Yes, life had changed.
The rest of the evening I remember quite well. But, I wonder at the convenience of memory and how, perhaps, our mind aims to protect us... What is as important, disturbing...catastrophic and deeply personal, as September 11th was for all of us, can be present forever or not. Fully at one's fingertips or rolled up in a tight ball, to unravel unexpectedly by chance...slapping us with the impact. Memories uncovered in the seemingly simple task of moving a piece of furniture from one destination to another...