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  • Writer's pictureSean

I Wish I Could Forget Too

I. The duct tape covers the seats like band-aids. Open cuts reveal the soft scar-tissue-foam inside. They look like sea sponges lost in this noisy, plastic world, very far from home. Outside the rectangular window streetlights whiz by, yellow streaks in the black night’s sky. Decade old seats held together by the stiffening leather, and the need to go on for just one more day. This floating waiting room must carry on, continue to deliver the thousands of passengers each day. On the right a man sipped from the opening of a brown paper bag that had deep wrinkles around the neck of the invisible bottle it concealed. It’s funny what happens to the mind when it has nothing to focus on. Instead of listening to the radio in your car, an audiobook on the train, or talking to friends at the park, listen to the silence. It is terrifying to be carried along as your thoughts wander, guiding you in the absence of distractions. When a vacuum is created – there is never a vacuum. Merely the replacement of things, one for another. Looking again at the brown paper bag in the disheveled man’s hands it’s easy to ask why he bothers with the bag. He is hiding himself from the public around him, only in hiding he reveals himself.


II. White swans swimming in the 350-year-old canal, broad white feathers become the center of a beautiful picture. To the left the canal continues for over a thousand meters, and to my right it leads toward a fountain that sits under the Palace of Versailles. Earlier in the morning my grandmother and I made the 45-minute journey on foot from her house to this beautiful wonder. We come for lunch, but we stay for hours, all of us sitting on the grass as the swans swim leisurely by. Their demanding presence compels tourists to toss them pieces of bread and cheese. These majestic birds fit well in their surroundings, and it follows that they get hardy meals daily without breaking a sweat. My grandmother, even in her old age, is a beautiful and strong woman. Her deeply caring character was forged by many things, the Nazi occupation of France, spending years as a math teacher in Africa, and raising two delinquent children who gave her nearly nothing but hardship. My grandma passes me a piece of a baguette, it has strawberry jam spread atop it and Spanish manchego cheese. We eat in silent bliss as lovers rent rowboats to travel around the canal, all of us in awe of the gold-adorned palace sitting on the hill.


III. The disheveled man on the train peered over as the bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label was removed from the backpack, without camouflage or the consideration of other people on the train. But the car has only two occupants. The platform comes nearer, and the train stops before the double doors slide open to let in a brisk wind that carries in dry brittle leaves. Drinking the whisky is like wearing the crumpled brown bag. Like a tarp thrown over a rusty car in the front yard, it helps but it does not take care of the problem. There is still a three thousand pound rusted out car sitting in your yard, corroding.


IV. When I was 12, I helped my grandmother in the garden. My favorite plants to work on were the rosebushes. The subject of innumerable poems, love stories, and essays. Taking the clippers to the rose bushes we cut off the decaying flowers, getting pricked by the thorns in the process. The flowers were beautiful in spring, vibrant, pink and taking up considerable space. With time they withered and decayed. People passing by would scoff in lieu of gasp. People began to ignore them instead of stick their noses in like honeybees, extracting their sweet nectar in exchange for nothing. Thinking back on my grandma, I think I will plant a rosebush this spring.


V. A woman comes into the car and tries to open the bathroom door. It has stopped many in their tracks, and she waits awkwardly after failing to open it. There is no one inside, so I get up and haul the door open for her. I get a smile in response. I go back to thinking of Mami, hoping this act of kindness she surely surveilled would be enough to redeem me.



VI. There came a point when Mami couldn’t live on her own anymore. After the death of her husband her mental state began a steep decline. The stove would be left on, she would forget her groceries at the store after purchasing them, and finally she called us, pleading us to take her in. My father took the first flight to Paris to bring her home to New York. My childhood dream had come true! The Atlantic would no longer be an impeding factor when it came to spending quality time with my grandmother. Despite her sickness, she put on a brave face! She knew when she was forgetting things, and often apologized, slightly embarrassed when she knew we were repeating ourselves. She came to my soccer games to cheer me on, and I read to her in French before tucking her into bed. It was the closest I could be to a grandmother who otherwise spent most of my life three thousand miles away.


VII. The duct tape band aids do their best, but once someone picks at a corner you can see the bruised seats, years of abuse leave them needing desperate attention. Thousands of people rubbing, sitting on them, careless passengers tossing their bags, rushing to work or school, leaving them utterly depleted, neglected. They are just seats in a moving waiting room. Nothing happens in here. They are just the butt-holders of people going through a state change. Work – home. Home – school. They need new spongy inhabitants to replenish the ranks. Life – death. Evening-rush to the silent night. The man in the corner consoles himself with the mysterious contents of his paper bag.


VIII. Mami was always an unimaginably kind person. Testimonies from all kinds of family all over France confirmed this, and stories of how she would drive hundreds of miles to help family in need, putting others first, ran on a loop over and over in my head as I watched her now. Her eyes were sunken, she was 40 pounds lighter than when she first came to New York, and her eyes dashed around the bathroom wildly, like the eyes of a scared creature that had no idea why some strangers were rubbing soap and spraying water all over her body. She hit my sister out of fear and tried – in hopeless futility – to get out of the shower. This set me off. My family is sacred! How dare she do that? Our family values were taught to us by none other than - well Mami herself. I sprayed water in her face and clasped my hand around her arm. She cried out in pain, but the confusion I caused would easily buy us another few minutes of calm so we could finish cleaning her.


IX. I thought about all of this on the train. All of this and more. The longer Mami lived with us, the more insufferable she became. The changes of her body and mind reflected a change in image we held of her in our heads. The process was not the same for all of us, and some of us, in our hurt, stopped seeing Mami in the skeleton of a body that laid in her bedroom. We saw only a burden, a stranger who saw us likewise. But now on this train ride, after months of ignoring and forgetting what happened something strange and spontaneous occurs. I begin to cry while thinking of her. Suddenly I create a new image, built by all my memories of her and all the stories I’ve heard from family who knew her long before I was born. I omit the bad ones and she becomes an angelic, omniscient presence in my mind. Her Alzheimer’s years are brushed over by a romantic filter. Memories of changing her diaper or losing my patience are hidden under the duct tape in my head, where she is younger and happier. We never fought. She loves me and I love her. I can almost see a golden halo when I imagine her now. Around my neck I wear a rope attached to my bicycle chain-key and a catholic cross that reads, “Ave Maria.” I’m not Catholic, but Mami was. The pendant dangles over my chest, covering my atheism with my grandmother’s theology. I hope it will be enough.

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kelsey.dobler
kelsey.dobler
03 Mar 2021

I am so in awe of this! Your writing is so visual, I was completely transported!! Every line was poetry and this back and forth narrative was sooo perfect for this kind of story - so much tension and beauty. You also made both locations connect in such a unique way! Super impressive piece

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