Memory will rust and erode into lists --John K. Samson
She once wrote why she loved me. She didn’t write it in a letter or a story or in a poem that she then sent to me or anyone else.
She sent me the reasons that she loved me cut up into slips, like the fortunes in cookies that are usually less fortune and more aphorism or warning served with lucky numbers and translations.
Some are a sentence. Some are two or three. Love, so easily and briefly translated into words.
I could have read these as warning—too many were specific, referencing events in our friendship that were past and that could only, by the nature of time, become more distant and more diluted by memory, warped and worn by repeated retrieval.
The reasons she loved me, then, were (are) past tense. The claims, though, are all present tense— all starting with: I love you because
Brief and past: Every history can be described that way once placed into a context that exists outside of itself.
I thought I too could write slips to almost anyone and tell them how I loved them for a brief but past moment in time.
(I could love them for the way they clenched their teeth when they smiled or for the way their teeth seemed too small for their mouths.
I could love the way I could see the outline that a phone, a wallet, a pack of cigarettes had worn its signature shape into the pocket of their pants [showing me that they know where things should go and how to keep them close].
I could love the way their faces look in profile when bent to read a book and only a book—not a computer or tablet screen, obviously the glow would ruin them.)
This turned out not to be true. When I went to respond to this gesture, I started writing my own fortune-sized reasons why I loved her and found I didn’t know how to. My stunted, belabored response felt too repetitive—too much like I might love her for the reasons she said she loved me and wouldn’t that have been the worst kind of love to give in return?
I have never counted the number. She gifted these reasons in a silver urn. I can see my face in it but her finger prints are gone.
If you shake the urn it sounds like ashes rustling dryly and heavily together. I have, on occasion, lied and claimed this.
When a guest has picked the urn up from the bookcase where it resides and shaken it and asked what’s inside? I have said “my grandmother” or “my grandfather”. I have smiled when I say it to let them know it isn’t true.
Would it be any less awkward to tell them: inside is one girl’s artifacts of the times and reasons that she loved me. I have kept it, but could never figure out how to respond.
I could burn them and keep the ashes. The ink and paper and past would be there in the carbon— perhaps the most obvious place to keep these things. I have so often been fascinated by how mass gets changed by the exposure to a new energy. Once they were ash, maybe I could eat them, mix them with water and drink them, pour them into an inkwell and write them back— blackened and time-lapsed.
My mother has told me, on occasion, that she wants to be burned, not buried. She revised this statement after hearing that her mass could be exposed to heat and pressure and she could become hard and brilliant. A diamond.
I have now counted their number. There are fewer slips than I had thought. The way they looked tangled together gave the illusion of more.
I could have taped them together, formed a quilt woven of patches of papered memory. I could have laid them flat like a blanket, or folded the taped sheet into a bird or a plane and used my breath to send them back. Her mother made her a quilt out of her baby clothes and her own wedding dress—what a poor imitation mine would have been.
To become a diamond, you have to be burned, the hardest, most sustaining parts of yourself turned into the soft pillowy-ness of ash. You have to choose, or I would have to choose for you, to remove your body from the historical or archeological record as a body. Once you are stone, no one would see the scoliosis in your spine, the conscious consumption of calcium in your teeth, the healed bones on the foot you broke stepping awkwardly down from a height only 6 inches above the ground.
Before I counted the slips I read them all again, one after another, for the first time since I received them. I kept waiting for one specific slip. The one that I remembered most clearly. It wasn’t there. Was it ever?
All these tangled slips make me think of “Slips and Tangles” a Weakerthan’s song I am almost positive I played for her the first time that she heard it..."another door that opens in/ to that place where we repeatedly begin/I’m tangled up in tries” It’s not really my favorite song by them, though it seems appropriate, and, the more I hold the precise, sharply cut strips, I think of another song on the album because I too am feeling “weary with right angles.”
We used to write letters back and forth: hers more frequent, mine more deliberative. She wrote because she liked to write letters, I wrote because I liked a reason to buy stationary, to have beautiful sheets of paper that I would never actually use all of and because, by writing and dating the letters, I was posting my present thoughts to the future. I liked that they would still matter to someone when they got there.
Christine Spillson received an MFA in nonfiction from George Mason University. Her work has appeared in publications such as Boulevard, Diagram and The Rumpus. She teaches creative writing at Salisbury University.