The Memory Game

It was was of the most important days of my life. So why can’t I remember it better?

I remember it being sunny. I must have been wearing a coat because it was October and I jump on the slightest excuse to wear one, but I don’t remember which one it was. I don’t remember the drive over from my flat in Slough to Marlow either. I imagine it was much the same as any other. But I just wish I remember it better.

Because that was the day. That was the day I lost my father.

Four years ago. The 14th of October 2012. A Saturday. And there’s plenty I do remember. I went to Marlow to meet my parents for coffee. I liked that little coffee shop nestled away in Liston Court. It wasn’t a chain. I don’t remember the name. I remember something being pink… the sign, I think. Possibly the furniture. No, that would have looked awful, it must just have been the sign. They had a shelf of Tea Pigs by the door.

The coffee shop’s not there anymore. Time relentlessly refuses to stop changing things. But we sat around a low table and talked. I remember discussing the education system and how it didn’t prepare young people for living a life in the modern world. We stayed for a second drink. There was always more to talk about when we sat down together for a coffee. My dad had a rich mind and his views were just traditional enough to conflict with my desire for reformation. That drove our conversations forwards, that desire to change a mind, broaden a horizon,  shift a perspective.

I remember standing on the roadside, giving my parents a hug and saying goodbye. I remember my dad wearing that bright yellow jumper that emphasised that huggable belly bulge of his, and that frankly wasn’t his style at all. I don’t remember what my mother wore. I’m sure I used to.

There are some rare people in the world who have perfect recall, whose memories never fade. It must be wonderful. And it must be terrible.

I couldn’t tell you what I did for the rest of that Saturday. After all, it was just a normal day. But I feel I should remember. My dad’s final twelve hours in the world and I can’t tell you anything I did. The universe shouldn’t be so unfair as to let those memories fade. I shouldn’t be so careless as to let them. It feels like I’m forgetting him by forgetting that day, even though I probably couldn’t tell you accurately what I was doing last week, let alone any other day four years ago.

I remember the things that hurt. If you can even imagine the primitive technology that we had back in 2012, Apple had just introduced the Do Not Disturb feature that silences incoming calls. I’d set it to turn on at 11pm, so I missed my mum’s calls for help. She had to face the worst moment of life on her own because I wasn’t there when she needed me. We are lucky to have such diligent and devoted neighbours who came to help after Dad collapsed, who could be there during that awful wait for the ambulance, who could be comforting noise in the dangerous silence.

Because in the end, it all descends into silence. Some vivid points of memory will last most of a lifetime — the drive back over to Marlow that night, wondering how fast was too fast, that’s etched into my head. But the rest of detail eventually becomes slightly blurred around the edges, then blends with other memories, then overlaps imagined moments, then finally fades into quiet. That thought has terrified me. It has saddened me. And it has made me feel guilty.

I used to think I knew what people meant when they said that someone continued to live so long as they were remembered, but I missed the point. It's not about memories. Memories can fade, they can be pushed aside for more current matters. But knowing my dad has changed me. It’s made me into the person I am, and no worldly event can throw a shadow over the way he enriched my life. And the same is true for the people who met him. In ways small and large, the people we meet affect us, they change our behaviour and alter our path through life. Meet a person who makes an impression or sets an example, and it can drive you to improve. It can inspire you to pass on what you’ve learned to others.

The legacy of a good man is forever.

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