About 29 years ago, I met a girl. We were seven, possibly eight, years old. We met at school. Or at church, in preparation for our First Communion. There is a picture of us together (with a few people between us) on that most holy day.
I remember the day somewhat well. My maternal grandmother was in town to witness the occasion of the day her granddaughter married Jesus and then ate his flesh and drank his blood for the first time (or something -- I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the doctrine); my parents and siblings were there as well. I wore white, ever the traditional bride. I even had on white gloves. There is a picture of my family with my grandmother. I remember sitting there waiting for that picture to be taken and then climbing a tree in the church yard afterward.
What I do not remember is the girl.
She will tell me, 23 years later, that we were friends. That we played together frequently. She will provide pictures to prove she’s not a liar -- me dressed like Danny Zuko at her ‘50s-themed ninth birthday, my sister roller skating on the back patio of the house where this girl lived with her family.
But my memory will not budge on this one. I remember so very much about my time at Edwards Air Force Base -- like the first time I met a girl named Erin, who was a year older than me, and we raced our bikes down the street, smiling at each other, the wind blowing in our hair like it was a god damn Pantene for Kids© commercial. That girl I remember.
I remember being on roller skates on my front porch, slipping, and crashing to the ground so hard I had the wind knocked out of me. I remember trips to the ER for asthma-related trouble; trips to Golden Cantina, the Mexican restaurant off-base in a town called Rosamond; parties where we “roof-stomped,” because the 1950s housing at this desert base had perfectly flat roofs, and everyone thought it was hilarious to have kids get up and jump on the roofs during baby showers or other parties where kids weren’t invited.
The point is, my memories of this period are very specific. Certain smells will bring back memories. The base has changed drastically since I lived there, but if it looked the same today, I could walk around blindfolded and not run into anything. I can see it all in my mind, no problem. My parents are still friends with so many people we met at that base (including Chris Hadfield, to just blatantly name-drop), and I see these people somewhat often. My connection to this time in my life is strong.
But short of a vague notion of having once eaten okra at her house, I do not remember this girl -- this one who is now the most important person in my life -- at all. It is a point of consternation these days, especially when I say things like, “My friend Natalie and I once [insert childhood memory here],” only to have the girl say, in exasperation, “I was THERE!”
Despite not remembering her at all from my childhood, I fell in love with her anyway, packed up and left my life in Los Angeles, and flew headlong into the unknown/abyss of a real relationship. I even married her. I hope Jesus didn’t mind too much.
It has been 2,057 days since I showed up on her front porch and we started this insanity. And 1,579 days since we got married (the first time). Merritt was 261 days old when I got to town; he’s now 2,318 days old. We’ve moved four times. We’ve purchased a house. We’ve refinanced that house’s mortgage. We’ve accrued debts and paid them off. We’ve made dumb mistakes and amazing decisions. We’ve fought hard, with each other and for each other. And we’ve loved harder.
Tomorrow, that girl who I’ve known for decades but only remember for about the last six years, is going into a hospital, where doctors will give her some sedative, cut a hole in her groin area, insert a catheter into her femoral artery, and feed a wire through her arteries until they reach her right temple. They will inject her with dye so that the fluoroscope can do its job. There is concern here, as the dye contains iodine, and she has always been believed to be allergic to iodine. It may be a misplaced concern, thanks to my research on the shellfish/iodine connection, but I digress.
She is terrified. I am terrified. And this thing is only a diagnostic procedure. It will only tell us what (potentially) terrifying thing has to come next. I was working in my office today, and she was in our bed, telling me that she was too paralyzed by fear to move. And so I went in there and held her. And we cried a bunch, until we had to stop because my tears were flowing into her ear.
If anything goes wrong in this procedure tomorrow, or the next, or the next, I will lose everything. My wife. My child. My family. The very reason for my being, what keeps me getting up every day to do a job I don’t particularly enjoy and live in a town I don’t particularly like. The loss would be unbearable.
We know that this is a relatively safe procedure. We know people have them done every day. We do not need to be told that anymore. The rational mind is not at work when it comes to fear, and so we fret and we picture the very worst.
For the last nearly six years, we have been making all kinds of memories. I’m backing up 40,000 photos to the cloud right now, the evidence of so many of those moments. There is nothing in my life right now that doesn’t tie to something Katie and/or Merritt has said and/or done. Every piece of this house has meaning. Every song is one we’ve listened to together or talked about. Every show, every book, every stretch of highway -- all of it holds a memory of my family.
This girl left my life for decades before she found me again. And I couldn’t remember a moment of knowing her. But if I lose her now, either tomorrow or at any point in the process of getting this thing out of her head, I will have six years’ worth of memories, reminding me of her every single moment.
I don’t know what the deal is with this universe. If there’s a higher power, I’ve only seen evidence that it’s a nasty one. But I don’t know that there’s any truth to the idea that sometimes it feels like the universe is out to get you. I don’t think the universe really cares that much about individual people who essentially amount to nothing when compared to the size and age of space.
But wouldn’t it just be a kick if somewhere there’s a being in charge saying, “Oh, you didn’t remember her from childhood, so we gave her back to you. But 2,057 days is the limit. Now we’re taking her away.” Like a script from a particularly depressing episode of The Twilight Zone. Even writing this, I feel like I'm putting some sort of juju out there that is tempting the universe to do something awful. But by acknowledging that I'm putting it out there, I'm counteracting that juju, right?
I can’t stop my mind from running through the worst scenario again and again. If she goes away, I will be left with only memories. The blessing (or whatever non-biblical word means the same thing) and the curse is that, barring some Eternal Sunshine situation, this time I won’t be able to forget.