We all have random memories, some are as vague as a dream, others a little more defined and others that only exist in photo albums. There is also those uncertain moments, echoes that may or may not belong to someone else’s memory. My childhood can be subdivided in all those groups, perhaps even more. There are moments I am unsure of. Did they really happen or have I imagined them? I remember a forest in the fog. A thick, impenetrable fog, punctuated by evanescent, vertical lines. I remember my father amongst all those trees. Was he chasing me or was I chasing him? We were lost, that I can say with certainty, but where was my mother? This is a recurring memory, like a persistent dream. It washes over me when I least expect it and I am yet to understand why.
Coming to think of it, most of those vague memories involve my father. I am little, three or maybe four, he is carrying me on his shoulders. It is early morning, my mother is taking me to see him, we meet in a café near his house, I order hot chocolate, he orders beer. I have grown up, we are up in the mountains, my mother receives a call and her face changes. She looks at me, sheds a few tears and the sentence falls. It is dark, and damp, a small group of doleful strangers parade past me while Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is echoing, slow, heavy. Memories I can count on one hand.
There are memories I wish to forget. Just as strongly as those moments I wish to never forget. And yet, most often than not, we don’t get to decide. We remember what we want to forget and lose sight of those moments we never want to fade. I don’t want to remember a certain part of my adolescent years, in fact, I want to forget it. But I have no control over what I remember. It hits me with force, I see it in a fleeting scent in the streets, in the stiff smile of a stranger on the tube, and I see it in a few melodies that are now tainted. This one hurts the most: beautiful melodies that now bear a heavy load, soiled with the memory of something I will always be reminded of. Think of it what you will, but I will not dwell on the details. They are undeserved.
When I flick through old albums, there are photographs I have no recollection of. Naturally, I am young in all of them and the little girl I see appears to belong to a different world. Here she is, petrified on the back of a camel in Tunisia; there she is, high up on a swing, unaware that her older self is now contemplating her, frozen in motion. There she is again, sitting on a bench, head shaven this time, courtesy of lice. Is she a boy or a girl?
Photographs are a mirror into the past. They are the only tool we have to travel back in time. A living proof of those moments we don’t recall, those places we visited and people we met. There are photographs of your past, then there are photographs of a past before you, that of your parents, grand-parents… An altogether unknown world in black and white. My parents’ wedding, my mother holding the bouquet, beaming from ear to ear. Proof. My granddad and his young sister before tuberculosis snatched her away. My great grandfather in his Air France pilot costume, standing proud before his first flight. Life in all its beauty.
I wish I was back home to dive in those albums and share those moments with you but they will remain hidden for a little longer in the attic. Along with all those other memories that, for want of a better hiding place, will forever remain enshrouded under a thick layer of dust.