It is fascinating to me, how hard a brain will work to protect a heart.
Two of the books I uncovered at my mom's house were The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story, by Mary Downing Hahn, and When the Dolls Woke, by Marjorie Filley Stover. I remembered the story lines of both of them perfectly clearly. I also distinctly remember preferring Woke. In fact, I was a little puzzled that I'd kept Garden, but I decided to go ahead and reread it, and in fact to reread it before Woke, so as to save the best for last.
And so I started reading.
(Twenty-seven-year-old spoilers to follow)
I soon discovered that, for all I could tell you every little plot twist that happened in the book, I had completely forgotten every tiny detail relating to the fact that the main character's father had recently died of cancer. It was just sort of... removed from my memory, whole-cloth, like you might cut out a star from a piece of construction paper. Even as I read that he'd died of cancer, I still didn't remember the revelations that would come later in the story- namely that the girl had overwhelming feelings of guilt over being too afraid to kiss her father right before he died, because of all the tubes and machines.
I may have started bawling in the break room.
And I realized... this book probably had a massive impact on how I handled my dad's illness.
Looking back at that time, I'm always sort of vaguely baffled by some of the surprisingly mature and self-aware decisions I made. For example, when I achieved menarche while visiting him in the hospital in Mississippi, I realized we didn't have time for me to play the stereotypical embarrassed preteen. I knew in my gut that it would make him happy to know that his daughter was becoming a woman, and so I told him- and every other adult in the room. And there were a lot of them. And I think my subsequent, "Feels like I'm wearing a diaper," grumbling brought everyone a certain welcomed levity in the midst of a very dark time.
It was a strangely cold and logical decision for a not-quite-thirteen-year-old to make, and I've wondered, in the intervening years, where I got the awareness to make it.
Now I think perhaps that reading Garden when I was younger showed me how terrible regret could be, especially when it came to the death of a parent. And so I took that lesson and tried very hard to make sure that I wouldn't have any.
And then my brain just went and sterilized my memory.
If I'm being honest, I don't really remember much around the time that my dad got sick and died. It wasn't that long a span- he was diagnosed in February and died in November. Nine months.
Anyway, my point is that there's more or less a whole year of my life that is mostly missing- I have the occasional highlight, like the menstruation story, or watching MTV for the first time at my great-aunt's house, or standing outside the funeral home with my two best friends- but for the most part... it's been clipped away, just like the dad in Garden.
And yet I kept the book, perhaps because somewhere deep in my psyche I knew it was valuable, knew it was worth saving. It makes me wonder if, someday, I'll get the missing pieces of 1994 back, too.
It makes me wonder if I want to.