Just now, I drove up Route 1A along the southern coast of Maine to my sister’s house at Moody Beach. Because it’s the middle of winter, my view isn’t blocked by tourists traveling bumper to bumper as they glance at the mansions perched on the craggy, wild hills to the left and right.
I drive and think of Sam.
He’s almost 21, and he was a boy here.
We parked across the street from the half-moon arc of Cape Neddick beach and waded out past the breakers, sinking into the soft silt of this protected shoal.
We spent an afternoon at York Wild Kingdom, walking the wooden paths and over bridges, spying small animals, eating cotton candy, riding the very old, very scary (to me) roller coaster at the edge of the park.
When he is older, just he and I brave the temperatures, even in mid-summer, and jump into crashing waves, float on our backs, and ride them in for hours at a time.
I pass these places and think of him, and how today, right now, I can see him clearly–almost hear him behind me in the car seat–his toddler body, the chubby, short fingers, his green Columbia jacket with purple trim. The way his head tilted, countenance thoughtful and faraway, to see out the window. I have him. Again.
I tell you this because it’s a recent reunion. Not a month ago, my dad and I sat in his cabin and watched over a few days all the home videos he and my mom filmed of my growing boy: baby Sam, toddler Sam, four- and five-year old Sam. My parents and their camera gave my boy back to me.
Because it’s just always been true that as I parented this boy, lived with him for more than 18 years before he went off to college, I couldn’t just conjure up images from the past. I was in what I was in, whatever day, month, year it was. Standing aside a young man now taller than I, I can’t see the boy, too.
Until those movies. Now, at any second, I can recall his face, body, fingers, hair, that raspy voice everyone commented on as he was growing up (a symptom of his ongoing allergies to just about everything.)
Today, as I drove, I saw that boy running on the beach as I passed the very spot. I have him, viscerally.
And this is exactly what has happened as I’ve discovered more and more photographs, recordings, including tapes of voice lessons–even videos–of Jan.
When I started this work in January 2015, I felt detached from her. Cerebral. It was all information in my head. Of course I remember her! and I could not remember her. Her speaking voice, her lips, as they pursed when she was quite serious about something, the small tilt of her head when she heard it. The smile. That Laugh. OH My God, that laugh.
Her speaking to me, evenly, excitedly, lovingly. Firmly.
At some point, as I watched and listened to these artifacts, she returned to me. Viscerally. I’ve got her now. I’m connected–in real time–to memory.