Yesterday as I drove home with Miss Diva we passed Audubon Park. I drive past it if not daily, than several times a week. Miss Diva was having a blond moment and didn’t realize it was a park until I pointed it out. She asked why we don’t go there. It’s close to us and quite pretty, but they lack proper restrooms or water fountains, and while not as much an issue now, their playground was kind of crappy. We’ve been there, but I much prefer other local parks.
My mother loved Audubon, likely because they have some gorgeous trees. We lived a good thirty minute drive or more from that particular park when I was little. The last trip to that park before we left Memphis was probably the in early fall of 1988. I loved trees too, but I was a bit disappointed when we made a trek to that one in particular. Back then there wasn’t a playground at all and swings and slides rank high on kid priorities. Still, we had fun. I think we had a take-out picnic and played frisbee.
I lived in Memphis for nine years before moving away and didn’t return until I was 18. Memphis was my home and at the age of nine I made the decision to return as soon as I could. I was just a little older when I decided to be a scientist and a writer and the president of the United States. I may have only been 9, but my record for achieving those goals is currently 3 out of 4.
Despite my nine-year old resolution, when I returned, it was just as much a strange place in many ways as other places I’ve lived. My connection to Memphis is now essentially the eighteen years I’ve spent here as an adult. Sure, I remember playing frisbee there, but far more clear are memories of taking Mr. Smarty-pants there when he was itty-bitty, walking with all the kids there and playing troll under the bridge.
Every once in a while though, my brain time-warps and I’m 6, or 7, or 8 again, running through leaves, giddy with the simple joy of freedom that running at that age brought. It was before asthma and chronic allergies stole all the fun. It was before I reached an age where I was self conscious. It was before I went through five long, painful years of bullying and isolation at school. It was long before grief and heartaches and the tedium of adulthood.
Chatting with Miss Diva about the park, I realized how integral our memories are. Our past may not define us, but it shapes us. I read a book recently in which the characters’ memories are wiped and then they regain them. While I enjoyed the story, something felt off and I realized the change in one of the main characters seemed too subtle to me. I can’t even list the number of ways different events have helped make me who I am today. I look back at pre-9 year old me and have no idea who I’d be if you erased all I experienced, but it wold not be who I am now.
Sixteen years ago today, I didn’t know it yet, but my brother had been taken from this world. Growing up with Justin influenced me, just as losing him changed me. Even knowing the pain of his loss, were I given the choice, I’d go back and do it all again just to hear his laugh one more time or hear his voice again.
Having hit 36, a number of people I know are saying goodbye to parents and other family members or friends. I know there isn’t really anything I can say or do to make it better. I offer my sympathy as that’s all one can do. Nothing ever makes it better. Not really. You move on. It becomes a part of you. So, for all of those dealing with loss, new or old, you are not alone.