Ray stood with his back to the sink. He’d come in from sanding the house; there was a faint white dust outlining the deep brown of his arms. He pulled his baseball cap off and rubbed his head, his short black hair was spiked with sweat.
I’d been sketching my dog. Three times I’d held up the sketch book and asked Ray-- Does this look like a dog?
Not really, he said the first time. The second time he just frowned and shook his head no. The third time he said, It looks like a rabbit.
I thought: I will always remember this day. I will keep this failed dog sketch that then became a rabbit, and I will remember this day.
I was in day seven of a two-week online writing course. The morning’s prompt had been--Write what you have forgotten.
I’d forgotten the time Ray and I had stayed after class, pulled two chairs together in the large seminar room to go over his essay, a disturbing piece about the way he felt compelled to seduce every girl, how miserable he had made some girls, how miserable he was. I remember I thought our chairs were too close. I could hear him breathing.
That was sixteen years ago.
I asked him today how he’d answer the prompt. Off the top of your head, I’d said. What have you forgotten?
He said--I’ve forgotten all the good stuff; I can’t hold onto that. I can’t remember the face of the girl I lost my virginity to. I can only remember the bad stuff. He turned to wash his plate in the sink.
So what about you? he asked.
I wanted to tell him about screen memories, about déjà vu and psychoanalytic theories of memory storage and retrieval. I wanted to tell him what Sally Mann had written about photographs robbing us of memory. Then I thought about Tennyson’s In Memoriam. I could talk about that at length.
But Ray had his hands pressed along the rim of the kitchen island, waiting.
I looked out into the field. I had forgotten that he was not my student but now my friend. I had forgotten what it was like to be asked.
I didn’t look at him, instead looked out the window at the swath of Bee Baum that seemed to have bloomed within the hour. I remembered how last year I’d heard a strange soft insistent sound and looked around for the source and discovered about fifty hummingbirds hovered over the flowers.
I told Ray that I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be well.