Yesterday, between spirited rounds of suitcase-packing, my mom and I went to say goodbye to my grandparents. Tomorrow, we leave for Davis, California. Several days from now, she will return to Connecticut, and I will be someone who has Moved Out.
We met them in the driveway. The day’s second or third round of rain had just ended, the sky blearily sunny, the air thick and wet. My grandfather, wearing a simple blue mask, leaned against the car he is no longer allowed to drive himself. My grandmother stood beside him in her usual uniform of all-black, wearing a studded mask not unlike this one. Knowing her penchant for shopping in the Junior’s section for anything glitter-, stud-, and rhinestone- heavy, picking pieces so gaudy that they only work when matched with the absolute shameless pleasure she takes in wearing them, this did not surprise me.
We talked about everyday things. We talked about how much we wished we could hug. We spoke about the move, the sorry state of the year and world and future, about our favorite at-home activities (my grandmother has been chopping wood and practicing with power tools). I left with money and well-wishes, unsure when I would be back again.
I haven’t seen my grandparents in person since before COVID hit. Though as a child I spent almost every day at their house while my parents worked, by the time I was a teenager, I simply stayed home alone. Their house has only become less familiar as years pass: some of it has to do with the things they change (a new TV; a moved upright piano). Some simply reflect changes in me, or, more accurately, failures of memory I only realize when confronted with an artifact long-forgotten.
Having recently read John Elizabeth Stintzi’s (JES) masterful novel Vanishing Monuments (keep an eye out for my interview with JES, forthcoming in The Adroit Journal), the function of objects as ciphers of memory –– and thus, as inventors of the pasts by which we define ourselves –– has been at the forefront of my mind. The novel’s title alludes to the Monument Against Fascism, unique in its relationship to its visitors, who are invited to sign their names to the Monument’s declaration denouncing fascism, and to time itself. As visitors have written their names, the Monument has descended deeper into the ground, retaining, but now occluding, the identities of those who have signed it.
Today, all of the names are underground, immortal and invisible. Only the original text of the Monument remains. Those who publicly proclaimed opposition to fascism now simply have to remember.
In Vanishing Monuments, narrator Alani attempts to preserve their past by mapping out a memory palace, associating certain rooms and objects in their childhood home with specific memories. Their palace, though imperfect (as is memory itself) is complex and thorough. While I have never chosen to build a memory palace, I now realize that I identify with Alani’s pursuit. It seems I’ve built one by accident, and standing in my grandparents’ driveway has burst open its proverbial doors.
Wildflowers litter their lawn. So do roots, attached to towering trees somewhat unique to their property; other neighbors have long since cut them down. The flowers grow most thickly at the base of two trees, both within view from my place in the driveway.
The first bunch mark the edge of their lawn. When I was young, drunk on Fairyopolis
, I came to my grandma demanding we leave out fairy food. I didn’t actually believe in fairies, but wanted to believe that I believed, because I knew other kids my age did, so I went through the motions until I as good as did. The following day, I found not fairies but slugs. I gagged at the sight, but was privately glad someone appreciated the food I left.
Then, there are the weapons. Not guns, thankfully, but their medieval counterparts, mounted on the wall. I remember walking past them down the hall into my grandma’s room, where together we’d lay on her bed and read, or take stock of my impressive doll collection, or look at our faces in the canopy-mirror above.
When I arrived home, I was similarly nostalgic. In my parents’ room, walls painted purple by my father “and me” back when I was six, the phrase “GIRL’S [sic] RULE” is painted on the wall parallel to their bed. Today, the irony makes me smile. Back then, I was thrilled to be given free rein and a paintbrush.
In my own room, across the hall, I am surrounded by monuments to a prior self. My walls (as nearly every Zoomed-in guest manages to comment!) are light green, the color of the leaves I see outside my window. (The leaves themselves hold memories: I remember “running away” into the thinly-wooded area with only a book and my iPod. I returned for dinner, but only after meeting trees that made me grimace with their tangled shapes. I’d never known a tree could grow that way.)
But back inside my room, inside the green, my furniture is white. With my grandparents’ generous help, I ordered a desk, bookcase, desk chair, nightstand, jewelry box, and bedframe. My seventh-grade self was so excited she could hardly bear the painstaking process of assembly. The furniture, now a decade old, has long since lost its novelty, now collecting dust at its corners. When I look at the edge of my desk, just beside my left wrist, I see a tiny carving: “My desk,” made with boredom and a pencil. I guess I like to mark my territory.
These are moments from a life I will never have back in quite the same way, even in my memories; I know the images in my head now differ from those of last month, last year, and certainly the long-past years shortly after they were made. But I also know that, even if not constitutive of the person I am today, they are members of the Sarah that was, who, like it or not, is folded into the Sarah –– Cavar? –– whoever, I will continue to be.
I complete this post only hours before my flight takes off. In about half an hour, I’ll drive to the airport. I don’t know how to say goodbye to this house, not only because my memory keeps it close, but also because it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I am Moving Out. I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet that I was ever eighteen, never mind twenty-one. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I’m moving in with someone I don’t know –– my new roommate, yes, but also with a self I haven’t been yet –– and it will likely take days and weeks in California before I get accustomed to them.
Until then, I’ll carry my palace on my back like the stamps and envelopes I use to write my grandparents, who lack both computers and cell phones. And like the luggage barely-under the fifty-pound maximum weight, because I don’t know how to downsize.
Almost time to go now, so I think it’s time to sign off. Talk to you soon!