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I tend to have problems with my memory. And I’m not sure if it’s hereditary, or if there’s even a reason for it, but I feel as though my mind is slipping away from me. As though it has fallen down a steep mountain. I have jumped down after it, but, you know, it’s just falling a little bit faster than I am. And I fear that it will reach the abyss of nothingness below us before I do. I fear that I will lose my memory before I will lose myself. But there is this one moment that I cling to as I fall downward. One small detail, a single frame in the movie of my life, that, at the very least, will reach the abyss of nothingness as I do. Yes, at the very least.

However, you should know that there is a past before this grave detail, and I fear it is a story worth telling. We will start with a man; a man with crazy hair. He wore oval glasses that shielded his warm eyes from the chill of the world. His ears were a tad bit larger than they should have been for his face, but this left his hearing impeccable. His crazy hair was wisps of wild shades of grey. It had grown longer than he usually kept it, but no one cared to remind him to have it cut. His nose was long and round and resembled his father’s in every way. His legs were long and spindly, but muscular all the same. The pants that he wore fit loosely and needed a belt to keep them from dropping to his knees. His shirts were never quite buttoned up right, but he didn’t seem to notice. His hands were large and calloused and shook violently with fatigue. When he smiled at you, it was as though all of the forgetting in the world had been forgotten; it was as though all you could do was remember.

He lived on a farm in a small town. He had been an English teacher for all of his life, but now kept to riding his lawnmower around the front lawn, waving to cars as they sped past him. His house sat on the top of a steep hill that he used to sled down with his son in the winter, and lug hay bales up for the horses in the summer. The house had been new when he bought it with his wife in the beginning of their marriage; fresh with a coat of blue paint and framed with spotless windows. But I fear as the marriage grew old, so did the house; cracked with a coat of faded paint and lined with cloudy windows. The front door opened up to a cluttered kitchen. The phone was always ringing, but never picked up. The large dining room table was left with piles of papers that never seemed important to anyone until you mentioned them, in which case they needed to be kept. He took to sticky notes as reminders: they painted the walls with bright colors and illegible scribbles. The house was warm with clutter and chaos, it always had been. It was only until last spring that the warmth had grown into a thick, dense heat.


He loved to talk. For hours on end. He could hold a conversation beautifully. He found so much pleasure in talking that I frequently found him rambling on to himself; as he was strolling through the fields to get the horses, the grass up to his thighs and the sun glistening the sweat on his face. But he wasn't the type of person that never let you get a word in; he wanted to hear your voice. He wanted to hear your opinion, and often dared to challenge it. Yes, he loved to talk.

He was wise as ever. He had lived a life of privilege as a child and worked the life of a farmer as a man. Learned the mistakes of being a wealthy boy of lust and rebellion; learned the grieving of losing a family member, a father. He did so much learning, it almost seemed fit for him to become a teacher. He was fondest of teaching the middle years. I'm not sure why. Maybe he secretly saw himself as a twelve year old boy, thriving on the joy of life, oblivious to the tragedies of the world, with little to remember and nothing to forget. His passion was English. He could spend lifetimes reading books that he had already read: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Flies, etc. He loved to discuss literature, to admire it. I used to let him read my essays after he retired. Only the good ones of course. I remember how I would give it to him one day; a fresh copy, with nothing but ink and thoughts scattered over it. And I could see the shake in his hands as he took the paper from me. And I could see the smile spread on his face as he quickly skimmed over the endless words and scattered thoughts. And he would thank me. I was never quite sure why, but he wouldn't stop thanking me. Even as he scrambled up that damned hill to his house, he would thank me. And the very next day, I would watch as he emerged out of that cracked front door: his pants lacking a belt and hanging lower than usually, the buttons on his shirt half undone, his crazy hair, unruly strands of grey, still waiting to be combed, and a smile on his face that was worth remembering, that made you feel like you were worth remembering. And he hugs you because he is proud. And he shows you his work: a crumbled piece of paper with scribbles and coffee stains scattered over it. And you smile because he is smiling, because he is happy, because he is remembering. And then you thank him. You can't stop thanking him.

There is this one small detail, a single frame in the movie of my life, that I cling to. I am sitting at your large dining room table in an old wooden chair. There is an endless pile of papers in front of me: mostly overdue bills and letters from forgotten family members. I'm not sure where you are. After you were diagnosed last spring, it became very common for this to happen. It seemed as though for days on end you would disappear, until suddenly you would show up again. And I guess everyone accepted it, the disappearing that is. But your forgetting was hardest. No one wanted to believe it, that your memory was leaving you. The people on the outside could see what was happening, there was word going around town. But the people on the inside were blind, deep in their black pit of denial. I can't seem to make up my mind about you. I don't want to make up my mind about you. So I don't change anything about us, which is why I am holding this piece of paper. Nothing but ink and scattered thoughts over it. But for some reason, I am very anxious as to if you will like what I have written. It is about you, the essay is. And I can't get the image of your smile fading from your face, not because you are forgetting, but because you are remembering too much. I'm not sure that you will want to challenge my opinion this time. And my hands start to shake like yours. And I start to mumble to myself like you. And I can't think. So I get up and walk around your cluttered kitchen. The phone is not ringing for the first time, but the light is blinking. I look at the pictures on your walls. There is an old drawing by your son; stick figures labeled "Mom" and "Dad". There is a photo of Willette, your wife, on one of her horses from years before. There is a painting of your three dogs beside each other. And then there is a photograph of you. You are alone, looking down the steep hill that you live on. There is an empty smile on your face, one that I have never seen before. Your crazy hair is wild shades of brown, and has not yet started to turn grey. Your oval shaped glasses are nonexistent, leaving a chill in your eyes. Your crisp shirt is ironed and buttoned up perfectly. I notice that there is a sticky note hanging off the end of the frame. There is a funny phrase scribbled onto it. And at first I have trouble reading what you have written, but gradually the words start to make sense. And it makes me smile. The note reads, "Remember to forget."

Sandy is currently living with early onset Alzheimer's. He rarely reads any of my essays anymore. I am still waiting for the day when he stops smiling completely.



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