The Trouble with Memories

You know it’s been a long time when you think it is the 15th anniversary of a death and then realize, counting backwards, that it’s actually the 14th, and your brain has done bad math again. It might as well be the 100th, it feels so long. Or the first, all over again, because there’s always something to reopen the wound. The numbers never made sense, and they still don’t.

Today is, technically, the 14th anniversary of my brother David’s fatal fall from one of the Colorado Fourteeners. Fourteen years and fourteen-thousand-foot mountains. For once, the numbers line up some odd way. But I admit I made the first counting mistake last year, proven by Facebook memories that popped up in my feed this morning, declaring it the 14th anniversary in 2021.

Similar to the way the Covid-19 pandemic warped everyone’s sense of time, disrupting what we thought we could assume about the present and the future, death disrupts our assumptions. Loss—even the loss of routines, relationships, and a general sense of safety in the world—fucks with our brains. And I’ve always been bad at calculations.

I also find it flummoxing that I am nearly 50 years old now, and my brother—born 12 years before me—stopped aging at 47. It will never properly compute.

Right now, I’m working on final edits to my manuscript about navigating my brother’s death, which covers a span of 10 years—from the moment he went missing on the mountain to the day my ex-husband and I scattered his ashes there on the 10th anniversary. So I’m reliving the story for the zillionth time. This will be the last time I shape this story until the words are printed between the pages of a real book, one the captures feeling more than documenting exact figures anyway. It publishes in the spring.

I’m nerve wracked about it despite my extreme excitement at seeing this massive undertaking realized in its intended form. Because I know I got things wrong, or half right, or are poorly remembered, and I’m scared about how others who lived through the experience will feel about my telling. Understanding the inaccuracies inherent in any memoir, I remind myself that memory—what drives this genre—is, by definition, flawed. I’m trying to trust my heart’s recall, trust myself, that though not in any way a work of journalism, my story is as true as I can make it. Whatever truth is, way less concrete than any numbers.

Last night, my musician ex-husband, who lived with me through the years covered in the manuscript and with whom I am grateful to be friends again, played a show in which he dedicated a song to my brother. He followed it with a song by his Silver Jews band leader, David Berman—one that provided consolation to me in the aftermath of my brother’s sudden death when they were touring together and which is featured in my book. Being forced to remember Berman’s suicide three years ago immediately after being undone by the tribute to our other beloved David while reckoning again with the dissolution of our long marriage was enough to make me ugly cry right there in the audience.

The losses and years snowball in my head, and making sense of any of it as it melds into a giant mess of sad is even more challenging. Still, I am dedicated to remembering rather than stuffing the hard stuff down, even if I do so incorrectly. Because my dear brother and our incredible friend and the love we shared were here, and I am grateful for them.

I started this blog seven years ago, in part, to discuss loss publicly. So, I’ll continue staring into the fire, writing my stories, crying my way into some kind of understanding. Thanks for reading and remembering with me, and apologies for the errors. Know I hit the marks the best I could.

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