Sometime last month, I found myself deeply frustrated because I couldn’t remember Sofia Vegara’s name. Every other detail of hers was present—the buxom body, the exaggerated accent, the terrible supporting movie roles—but her name stayed on the edge of my consciousness, refusing to come forth like I was summoning it with a wrongly-worded spell. This episode was doubly frustrating because I was trying to use her to describe another hole in my memory: the consternation of words that formed the title Modern Family somehow refused to appear in the dark sky of my muddled mind.
Earlier this week, I re-watched an episode from Lie to Me—one of my favourite TV shows—titled Veronica, because I woke up with a musical piece from that episode in my head. It is from a scene where the titular character, Veronica, an Alzheimer’s patient, was reunited with her piano by Cal Lightman, who had helped solve the mystery of the hallucinations that plagued her during the episode. She smiled as she entered her room, and saw the piano. She hunched over it, spread her fingers on the keys, and started to play what I would later discover was Waters of March. (For some reason, all the versions I found on Youtube did not match the way the part the woman played in the episode made me feel.)
I’ve been struggling with details like Sofia’s name for about three to four weeks now. I wanted to blame it all on drugs, but my memory has never been superb. I’m one of those people who count Google, phone reminders, and countless notebooks as an extension of their brains—always at hand to help plug a mental hole.
All of this came back today as I read Roger Angell’s This Old Man. Of course I’m still decades away from the things he describes in that wonderful essay, but when he mentions books and writers, I can relate to the excitement he feels at the thought of them. It was as I read that that my mind returned to Veronica and how her fingers remembered the music in spite of the Alzheimer’s, and how she smiled at the sight of the piano.
The pleasures that stick with us through life are little and I wonder why we don’t spend more time cultivating them. Ours is a life of loss, of pining after the things we can’t have, can’t cause to remain, and refusal to nourish the things that are good for us.
A song that the ears picked up on the road in Takie that feels like a wardrobe to 2006 and all the free-spirited emotions of that year. A nursery rhyme that appears suddenly in the mind in the middle of a hot afternoon when the heat and humidity of Lagos and a fog of sadness blocks every thing else, and tries to will the lips to smile. Sometimes the mind tries to suggest to me the things I should hold dear. Of course I ignore it.
The excuse for writing this was really to share Roger’s essay, so here’s an excerpt:
“Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night. This is why we throng Match.com and OkCupid in such numbers—but not just for this, surely. Rowing in Eden (in Emily Dickinson’s words: “Rowing in Eden— / Ah—the sea”) isn’t reserved for the lithe and young, the dating or the hooked-up or the just lavishly married, or even for couples in the middle-aged mixed-doubles semifinals, thank God.”
I would write about this someday, but not until I can manage to say more than two sentences without sounding like a cynical middle-aged bachelor that has just received news of a terminal illness. Now, back to memory.
Roger wrote about how he‘s ‘begun to memorize shorter poems—by Auden, Donne, Ogden Nash, and more…’ to keep his brain from moldering. I’ve been reading poems by Jim Harrison and Mary Oliver too, but not for any intentional reasons like Roger’s. This has been accompanied with some Jazz and a lot of melancholic songs. I like to think I’m building a cache, things that would serve as portals through which future me would access this time of my life. I’m going to plead with my mind to do me a favour though, to distort these memories such that, stepping through the portals, I would not be faced with an excess of moodiness, but surprised with happiness.
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