At home Rachael and I seldom eat seafood. Even though we live by the ocean, and can faintly smell the brine in the breeze when the wind comes from the east. But half a world away I can’t get enough. What’s wrong with you? Rachael asks me the third night. I had no answer other than the salt tastes different somehow.
Growing up, the kids next door had a swing set with hollow aluminum legs and dirty white plastic swings. The chains were rusty and our hands were covered in reddish-brown grime whenever we played on it. There were two swings, and a glider thing that could hold two more kids but would pinch your crotch whenever you got it going too high. And we liked to swing high. As high as the swing set would allow us to go. Their yard was full of tall weeds and broken things and the neighbor kids’ dad never figured out how to anchor that swing set, so when we swung on it the aluminum legs would lift up from the ground and the entire framework would start to tip. But it was the only swing set in the neighborhood, so we still came.
There are all sorts of things that I can’t remember: my first orgasm, the sound of my mother’s voice, how it felt to be shorter and to look upwards at things that I now look down upon. I don’t really care that these memories have been forgotten. They have been replaced by all the things that I do remember, which I can only assume are more important. But there is also another category. The third category describes all the things that I have forgotten that I have forgotten, and I miss those memories fiercely.
Rachael and I visit old cathedrals. We visit castles. We drive tantalizingly close to cliff edges. We visit museums. We visit landmarks. We drive on the left, we drive on the right. We eat, we drink, we sleep in a new bed each night. It all passes like an infomercial recorded then impatiently fast-forwarded through.
I have been told that something changed in me. It would explain a lot but I don’t think their theory is correct. I am as I am. If I had changed, then that previous mystery would not have been me, and I would not have been it. Therefore I am exactly as I have always been. Despite all my doubts I have confidence that my logic remains perfectly sound.
Each morning I wake up and can’t remember where I am. I lie under a foreign ceiling. Rachael made all the travel arrangements but even if I had plotted out each stop, each hotel and bed and breakfast, I still think I would awaken disorientated. Lately I often find myself out of place. I am distracted by the constant improbability of some sudden, unavoidable accident. They say that migratory birds always know where they are by some connection with the magnetic field of the earth. I wonder if I too am a migratory beast.
Lately I have also been told that I am an ungenerous person. That I grasp everything within reach and hold it all tightly to myself. I have been accused of possessing a cold and distant personality. That I place myself apart from the world. I hear all these things said about me, even when they are not said. I infer. But I disagree with these assessments. I am a very generous person, precisely because I remain apart. I am doing the world a great favor by forgetting.
What passes for conversation some days would bore even a Buddhist monk under an oath of silence. We comment neither on the beauty we pass nor the desolation. Our silence is a charged absence; it says everything that needs saying. Rachael is particularly skilled in this form of not making noise. I aspire to her level of investment. Together we are dedicated to our silences in a way that perhaps that oath-bound monk may understand.
I remember all the shades of blue I’ve ever seen. How the pigment on a canvas seems to absorb the eye into itself, how the blue of the sea rejects my focus. How every person with blue eyes is untrustworthy, but each person is untrustworthy in their own unique hue. I know that there are names for the different varieties of blue, but those names are in the list of things I can’t remember. Blue is blue, one fractured whole.
Rachael says that I do not appreciate her, or everything she has done and suffered through. How can anyone appreciate everything? Perhaps I appreciate exactly as much as anyone else would. But since I cannot appreciate everything (and again, who can?) I have chosen a different subset of everything. A selection of her beauty that has little overlap with her selections. Rachael says that we’re through, once we get home. But Rachael has told me this before. I am fairly certain we’ve discussed this before.
The worst days are the days that I remember I have forgotten so much.
I do remember that I was never one of the kids who swung the highest. I wasn’t one destined to topple the entire swing set over. But I always hoped that one of them would. That someday somebody would swing so high they reached an escape velocity and made the whole apparatus collapse. I’ve always secretly rooted for the chaos that natural disasters promise. I’m fascinated by the instinctual reactions we all carry within our nerves, the sudden movements that are only released when we’re startled or threatened. I anticipate the next, latest catastrophe.
Matthew Smart lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where he works as an information technology analyst. His writing has appeared in Vestal Review, Cheap Pop, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Unbroken Journal, Smokelong Quarterly and elsewhere. He serves as Assistant Prose Poetry Editor at Pithead Chapel. Website: MatthewSmart.net Twitter: @_MatthewSmart
Image: JJ Ying