Day 559, January 12, 2022

Electric Socks 

This morning, a Facebook memory appeared at the top of my feed. It was a photograph someone had posted from a high school party. It was a room I have no memory of being in with heavy dark drapes around the windows, a stone mantel fireplace with a painting hung over it. There are a lot of 80’s era hair styles, and lying in repose, nearly in the lap of a cute high school girl, is me. 

Not only do I not remember that room, I don’t remember ever being so intimately close to a girl in high school, except for a handful of moments, as I was bumblingly awkward and clueless. And yet, there I am, looking happy, comfortable even. It is strange.

I used to think of my memory as nearly infallible and precise. I could remember conversations, occurrences, moments, with surprising fidelity that still shock my parents. I remember the time a police officer came to our house in Quincy after a break-in. My father detailed the missing camera equipment, and then I talked about a missing coloring book and was frustrated that the officer didn’t seem to write it in his pad. That was before my brother was born, so before the age of five. 

Similarly, I used to have extremely sharp vision. I could read text at obscene distances. I could pick out an owl sitting on a branch in the forest. I could read the ingredients on a box of cereal unassisted. I could see scorpions ambling past the campfire in the darkness.

It appears both of these talents are less notable these days. Emily St. John Mandel writes in Station Eleven about how memory, over time, becomes less defined, less precise. It feels more like all things are that way these days. More and more, I give up trying to read instruction sheets that accompany my electric socks, or a rechargeable bicycle light because I can’t quite make out the letters. And when I think of that house in Quincy, I can’t quite make out the living room, just that you had to walk up a flight of stairs and through a porch to get into the house, and that there were couches, and that the officer stood the entire time.

I worry that things are so out of focus now, that I will not remember anything with precision from this time. Will I remember what it is like to walk through a mostly deserted campus on a cold winter night in the middle of a pandemic when it feels as if the whole world is deserted? What is the mundane detail I will remember from these days… waiting in line at six feet intervals to get soft serve ice cream at the Creemee on a warm summer afternoon wearing a mask and unable to recognize anyone as friendly or not?

It turns out, electric socks are more complicated to operate than you might think. But I figured it out with a little trial and error. When I was young, my father thought I might have a career in rewriting the terrible instructions that came with things like self assembled furniture or televisions. This was in a pre-IKEA world where all the instructions seemed to be ill advised translations and most products were missing at least one crucial screw, bolt, or batten. How could we have imagined the future would be about fewer words and assembled by pictographs.

That high school evening in 1989 or thereabouts, we are a strange collection of teenage hormones, affected casual coolness, and I imagine, several cans of hairspray strong. We tried to live up to the expectations set for us in the movies with keggers and age appropriate debauchery. But in this photo there are no bottles of beer, no cigarettes, no joints, at least that I can see. We are innocents on the tail end of childhood, basking in a moment that none of us might remember, utterly unremarkable except for how remarkable it seems now, a room full of friends or near friends, faces exposed, my face, nearly decipherable as pleasure. 

I wonder how many times I have struck that same expression, and perhaps unnoted it is more memorable for its genuine unmediated appearance. I hope to remember those moments more often, try to capture them as one stumbles across an old snapshot and tries to remember all the names of the people in the photograph. All those chance, blissful moments.

Dawn in Montague


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