Sunday
Oct272013

Forgotten

Roberta Allen


 

When one of the stars of Sex and the City bumped into me in the health food store on Sixth Avenue, I remembered Katherine saying, "I wish I had close female friends like the girls in Sex and the City." That trivial incident set my mind in motion. I couldn't remember Katherine without remembering Valerie and Yolanda too.

I squint, as though squinting can help me remember.

Why do I want to remember?

Is it possible to have feelings for people I've more or less forgotten?

Or is it fear that drives me?

Fear that my memory is failing.

I try to imagine Katherine's face, but all I see is a blur. Only her short dark curly hair is clear. We had the same hair stylist who had once fallen twenty feet off a cliff while hiking. She landed on her feet. Doctors said she would never walk again.

I remember that hair stylist telling me about a man who threw a live mouse into burning leaf litter in his yard and how the blazing creature ran out and through the front door, setting his house on fire. She said the house burned down.

When did I last think of that?

I try harder to picture Katherine the night she made that remark about Sex and the City. I see us seated side by side at a table in a pricey restaurant. This seems odd to me now. I suppose we both wanted to face the large windows and look out at the night and Highway 212, quiet at that hour. I see her sipping from my glass of Merlot.

Why?

Was she cheap?

Poor?

Thrifty?

Was I annoyed?

I must have been annoyed.

 

I remember thinking how young she looked even though she was retired and collecting Social Security. I was surprised a woman her age would be hooked on Sex and the City. Social Security seemed far in the future then. It wasn't that far.

If I asked, would she remember making that remark?

Who can tell what will be remembered?

Is it true that with each telling, our memories change?

Without electronic devices, who can prove what anyone has said?

Even when we hear the same words, those words say something different to each of us.

What something means can change from one moment to the next.

What does it mean to remember four baby robins dead in the nest under the eaves of my cottage? Would I remember the baby birds and their mother who never returned if the friend who found them did not often remind me?

How many of our memories are fabrications?

Distortions?

Having said that, can I be certain that anything I say is true?

Was Katherine the loner I remember?

Until her comment about Sex and the City, I thought she was fiercely independent. She spent her time protesting for peace and driving as far as Vermont just to tango.

Despite her busyness, she had time to watch every episode of Sex and the City. So did I. There was little to do in our village. This is probably why I recall running into her at some event at Town Hall I no longer remember. I had gone there with Valerie. When I introduced them, I didn't think they would click.

I'm almost sure Sex and the City was not mentioned then but I can easily imagine Valerie, who was younger than us and only watched old movies on TV, scrunching up her face and saying, 'How can you watch that show!'

 

When the event at Town Hall was over, the three of us were approached by Yolanda, a woman about Katherine's age who was new to the village. She invited us back to her house for a drink. Her boldness impressed me.

As I recall, her house was nearby. In the living room or maybe it was the dining room, I worried that her husband, stooped and frail, might collapse from the effort of opening the wine as I watched him walk off and close the door behind him so he wouldn't disturb us. Yolanda's eyes followed him too.

I remember thinking that Yolanda must have been a beauty in her youth before she gained weight.

What made me think so?

Her fine features?

A framed photo?

Or did I just make that up?

 

When I imagine that late afternoon, it feels dreamlike: our mad laughter, our joyful shrieks (about what I no longer recall), even Katherine's excited voice saying, "This is great! Let's get together for Sunday brunch every two weeks!"

Were these her exact words?

Where do words go once they leave our lips?

Do they dissolve in the air?

Or is there a giant repository with all the words that were ever spoken?

If so, how would we find which ones were ours?

Maybe in that giant repository, the words would belong to us all—even words we wish we'd never said, never heard.

How many words have I forgotten?

 

I don't remember what Valerie said when she offered to host our first brunch. I only recall my surprise. Valerie was cool about most things. I saw her more than most people did but that was not often.

Her demanding job required her to be on the road before dawn four days a week. Two out of three days off, she spent at the nursing home where her mother cried and pleaded with her to stay at the end of each visit.

No wonder she hit the vodka.

Valerie used Absolut to make Bloody Marys at our Sunday brunch. Funny—I remember that, but I've forgotten whether the brunch took place in summer or winter, spring or fall.

What I remember well is the abstract painting Valerie hated that hung on the wall in her mudroom. She had tried to return the painting after buying it on a whim but the artist refused to take it back.

I am tempted to say Valerie wore a sour expression whenever she laid eyes on it.

Maybe she did.

Every object but that painting in her spare and tasteful house had been chosen and placed with the utmost care. Of course, I don't recall every object but saying this feels true.

Is feeling enough to make it true?

I want to say her house was as clean as it was neat. When Katherine walked in that Sunday and looked around, I am almost sure she said to Valerie, "God, this place is clean enough to eat off the floor!"

Was she bothered by what I think was Valerie's obsession with cleanliness and order?

I try to picture Katherine's house. I wonder now, as I may have done then, what her house was like. I want to say her rooms were messy, clothes and flyers strewn about, cat hairs on the couch, plants crying out for water—

Can the desire to remember fool you into believing that you do?

In Valerie's spacious sun-soaked living room, the Cyclamen by the window provided the only splash of color and seems as real to me now as the jade plants lining the sill in my studio. But I can't remember whether the Cyclamen were hot pink or fuchsia.

Looking back, I wonder how Valerie could have been depressed in a room so bright.

Did I wonder about that at the brunch?

 

I remember more about that Sunday afternoon than I do about that late morning when we all arrived. I have completely forgotten Yolanda's arrival.

I wish I could recall how the brunch began as vividly as I recall Valerie's hand-washed underwear drying on the rack upstairs in the middle of a room that may have been the attic, with a washing machine and dryer, a room so filled with sunlight I could feel the presence of God or Spirit or whatever, until she said, "Everything dries in an hour."

Thinking about that now, I doubt she would have shown a room with drying underwear to people she didn't know well.

But her immaculate white bedroom was another story. How clearly I see that room.

White down comforter.

White dresser.

White chair.

White night table.

White lamps.

White curtains.

Did she show us around the house before we sat down to eat?

Or did I see the bedroom on another visit?

I picture the kitchen; long, narrow, spotless. Not even a hint that she'd prepared a meal for four. I can imagine Katherine saying in a critical way, "Not a crumb in sight."

I never remember food so I am not surprised I have forgotten what Valerie served that day.

I have even forgotten the name of the dish my Venezuelan friend ordered last week when we lunched at a Vietnamese restaurant on Canal Street though I wanted to remember so I could order it myself sometime. I only know my Venezuelan friend's entree consisted of various kinds of fish and was cooked at the table. The steam made me sweat.

I am tempted to say Valerie did not sweat—even on hot summer days. When she wasn't working or seeing her mother or cajoled into attending a weekend party with the usual crowd, I imagine her in the bedroom upstairs, reading by the air-conditioner—also white.

Did Valerie's hands tremble slightly as she placed what I guess were eggs or omelets on the round oak table? Was that the only sign that something was amiss in her psyche?

At best, a fuzzy image of us seated around the table floats before me.

Then nothing.

Nothing.

The sort of nothing that brings to mind the blackness of huge Australian caves, the floors of which suddenly drop to infinite depths, or so it seems, at least in memory.

What is the difference between memory and imagination?

Is there a difference?

Can we remember without imagining?

 

I see us all after brunch, bellies full, heads a bit woozy, lounging in the living room on the large overstuffed couch and easy chairs.

Is this a memory?

I assume alcohol had loosened our lips. Conversation must have turned to men. Why else would I recall Katherine saying that men were suddenly paying attention to her again. Surprising me, she said, "I thought that part of my life was over."

I remember those words as clearly as I recall the man with a Rapunzel-like ponytail who later became her boyfriend—a ridiculous word for a man in his sixties.

A man Valerie would have snubbed.

Valerie didn't have a boyfriend. She liked to be alone or so she said. I picture her tall slender figure moving silently from the kitchen to the living room, holding yet another open bottle of Merlot. The "heart throb" of several local men she had spurned, I imagine Valerie listening to us carefully while refilling each one's glass as well as her own, keeping to herself stories she had told me when she was drunk one night about her annulled marriage to a "boring psychologist."

At the time of that brunch, was I still dating the artist who bar mitzvahed his collie, then thirteen, in front of twenty-five guests on the lawn of his property? The collie was eight when his girlfriend then gave him the canine as a gift. She still called to inquire about the animal. Once he said, "I feel like she and I were married and had a dog."

When Yolanda met me on the street with him, she had whispered in my ear, "He's a catch!"

 

I have said little about Yolanda who owned several properties with her husband in the Dominican Republic and worried about their upkeep. She lived Upstate intermittently.

Not long after we met, I recall her saying, "I don't belong here." I tried to reassure her. I did not know what she was getting at until she said some time later, "This town is racist!" I disagreed until I realized the only other dark-skinned person I knew was the mathematician who dated a former beauty queen, a pale blue-eyed blonde from Alabama.

I began to wonder if Yolanda was right.

 

Maybe Yolanda, not Valerie, was the quiet one at that brunch, at least until her outburst. While the four of us relaxed around the large low coffee table in Valerie's living room, Yolanda blurted, "I haven't had sex for a year!"

Her words hung in the air with the heaviness of wet laundry.

I was going to say that embarrassment left us speechless.

But now I wonder if we were merely surprised.

Whatever effect her words had, however, I doubt Yolanda noticed. I see her leaning forward in the easy chair, hands clenched, as she rushed on after taking a deep breath, "I have to have sex! I can't stand it, I'm so horny! My husband can't do it. He's too old. But he understands. He doesn't mind if I take a lover. He wants me to be happy."

I wish I could remember what we said in response but I feel as though I am standing before those black Australian caves again. I could easily slip off the edge.

If I said she asked us to introduce her to some available men, would I be making that up?

What does my forgetfulness mean?

I only recall that we agreed to meet again two weeks later for Sunday brunch at Katherine's house.

 

In anticipation of our second brunch, I bought Benadryl a few days later to avoid having an allergic reaction to Katherine's two short-haired cats even though Valerie had whispered to me, as I was leaving her spotless house, that she now knew way more than she wanted to about Yolanda, and that night phoned to say, "Katherine stayed and stayed! I thought she'd never go home!"

I recall how Katherine often kept me on the phone, talking politics, long after I said I had to get off.

The Friday evening following our Sunday get-together, Valerie refused to go with Yolanda and myself to the club where a local band played the Stones. I held my breath every time Yolanda asked a man to dance. When each one turned her down, she wore a brave face.

I felt bad for her, but not half as bad as I felt for the friend in the city with cancer and the one fighting eviction from her Soho loft, neither of whom I had mentioned to Valerie, Katherine or Yolanda.

 

Whatever else transpired between the four of us in the days and weeks after our brunch, not to mention the next year, maybe two, is lost in those black Australian caves or dim at best except for the tiff I vaguely recall with Katherine.

Her neighbor was not supposed to know that she had been snooping around his house while he was away. I don't remember how he found out but Katherine blamed me. That ended our friendship. In retrospect, our friendship seemed fraught from the start.

After the brunch, Valerie and I must have had some good times but I only recall her saying, "I feel like staying home" or "I'm too tired" except when I suggested going out for a drink.

The last time I saw her was the day I invited friends over to say goodbye while I was packing. I still remember finding the unused Benadryl when I emptied the contents of the medicine cabinet into a carton.

Was I sad then?

Did I feel anything?

One night at a crowded downtown party in the city, a few years later, I was surprised to see Yolanda. She was still heavy but she looked elegant and at least ten years younger. A facelift I presumed. I wondered if her husband was still living and whether she had found a lover. But we didn't even say hello.