When my neighbor, Orna, was dying, she and I talked a lot about her memories. I asked her about her happiest days. She told me that her best days, the sweetest times of her life were not what everyone would suspect.
Her wedding day was "sad." She said that she felt that they should have waited longer before marrying and that the war sort of pushed them both into a place that they weren't ready for. She remembered feeling shellshocked on her wedding day.
She said that graduations, promotions were not star kissed. "The first time someone called you doctor?" she said. "I bet that was nothing compared to listening to Liv singing in her crib after her nap on a sunny afternoon on a non specific day in March."
She was right. Of course.
"What I really remember are moments," she told me. She spoke of how her husband used to laugh with his head thrown back. She thought that was thrilling to see. She said that he had the sexiest adam's apple imaginable.
She remembered how delicious a glass of orange juice tasted on the first day after a really bad cold where she went for weeks unable to taste anything.
She told me that she loved watching her bird glaring at cars out the window.
Today, I thought of this as I was driving Liv to school. I thought about all the great times of my life, the best memories. The truth is that they were not what most people would think.
The first time that Bing and I made love....? The earth did NOT move. In fact, it barely pulsated. I remember thinking that we were a bad match physically.
We improved with time and LOTS of practice.
And one of my best memories is of tucking my foot under hers in our bed and feeling her heart go from a fierce pounding to a slow, steadiness as she fell asleep after a particularly nice romp.
All of my graduations, promotions? I barely remember them except to recall that I was sick with nerves.
I do remember watching Liv play the harmonica on a summer afternoon in harmony with Bing and her father. I remember looking over at Tinton and the stark love that I saw in his eyes that mirrored my own for our child.
I don't remember my birthdays, really. I do remember that taste of carrot cake when I was in high school and I was sitting in a booth with my friends, talking about tryouts for the school play.
I do remember Liv's firsts. Her first staggering steps, her first tooth, her first word. But, more importantly, I remember looking at her sitting in the bathtub with a perfectly shaped orb of a bubble perched on her shoulder, smiling at me.
I remember sitting at the computer yesterday and Liv coming up behind me to plant a kiss on my shoulder as she walked by. "You smell like strawberries," she told me.
I remember my friend, Nirand, and I out taking a walk and him telling me that something in him reached out to something in me and that he felt that we were tribe mates extraordinaire. I remember that feeling of yes! that pulsed through my nerves, knowing that he had hit on just the right one that would thrum.
I remember my Da playing his guitar on the back porch steps, singing a song about a chicken who lost it's head. I remember him smiling at me and laughing, his eyes crinkling. The sheer pleasure it gave me when he would reach out and pull my head against him in a hug.
I don't remember the first time that I told Bing that I loved her. Or vice versa. I do remember that rainy afternoon when she called to check in and we said goodbye and hung up and she called back. I forgot to say I loved you, she told me.
I love you too. More than I can verbalize. There are no words for what I feel, it is like a warmth, a heat, a coolness on a fever, a sweet tart on the tip of my tongue. It is just everything and nothing and all of it together. It is us. Something that lifts me and holds me steady and sometimes knocks me for a loop, all in the same day.
I remember the phone ringing as I was drying off after my bath. Lying down on my bed with just a towel on and chatting with my sister. I remember Bing coming in and gently tugging away the towel to wickedly kiss and nip me a little on my inner thigh. I remember shivering with pleasure and fighting to keep my voice steady with my sister and trying to shoo Bing away at the same time while she grinned with sheer huckleberry finnity.
I remember being outside and sitting in an adirondack chair on a summer's day while Bing and some friends jammed together on their instruments. I remember Bing playing the opening bars of Ventura Highway and holding my eye as her fingers raced expertly over the guitar strings and her body made a slight wave as the music went through her. I remember the heat of desire that welled up in me just watching her play. Her joy in playing. And her obvious pleasure in watching what it did to me.
I remember car rides and looking out the window, feeling Bing's fingers seeking out my own as she drove, asking me where I was, that it felt like I was a thousand miles away. And I was. But, I came back.
I remember Liv as a toddler walking through the grocery store with me and running firmly in front of my legs to hold her arms up and insist that she come "up, up" into my arms. I remember leaning down to scoop her up with one arm and balancing a loaf of bread and a jar of mustard in the other.
I remember a bout of the flu when I was in my twenties and how good it felt after a night of burning up to lay my cheek against the side of the cold porcelain bathtub and have nowhere that I had to be just then.
I don't remember all of my neighbor Sven's games, but I remember him playing football in his back yard with his buddies and them all yelling with glee as testosterone pumped through their veins as someone threw a ball for a touchdown.
I don't remember all of my Christmases but I do recall how great it felt to wrap presents one cold winter afternoon and settling the packages under the tree with the lights on. I remember putting the backs of my legs against the radiator to warm them up as I looked at that tree.
I think I understand what Orna was getting at. It isn't the big days of your life that you will pull out to comfort yourself on your deathbed. The small, perfect days will be the ones that you slide out of your head and heart and turn over and over in your mind.
Sinking into a hot bathtub full of lily of the valley scented water. A good, thick wash cloth to clean under your armpits.
Watching Seinfeld with your family and laughing in unison when Kramer comes crashing into a room.
Biscuits in the oven. Honey in a plastic bear on the counter just waiting to be spread on the melting heat of them.
The smooth wood of your desk as you sit down to write a thank you note to someone with that perfect pen.
No wonder poets go mad so easily. There is so much to overwhelm us if we just stop and think about it.
Nothing is really mundane, we know that. But, you can't lose yourself too easily or you will risk weeping at the drop of a hat and irritating everyone around you.
But, in general, yes...Orna had it right.
What you remember are the gods in the details.