01 June 2011

The End Of Memory: Beyond Forgetting

Yesterday I rode my bike through a part of Brooklyn in which I spent much of my childhood.  I hadn't been there in four years.  The last time I was there, it was an unusually hot for this time of year, but would have been absolutely normal, say, in late July or early August.  The same could have been said for yesterday.

And, yesterday shared another trait with that day four years ago:  There were no shadows, as if the heat had evaporated them--or, perhaps, prevented them from being born in the first place.

Actually, what I just described is also how I remember every summer day--and many in other seasons--in that neighborhood.  Everything seemed burnished into a tablet of a moment would last for days, weeks, months, years, and even entire lifetimes.  It's what I sometimes call the Eternal Present.  

Yesterday I also did something else I did on that day four years ago:  I stopped by the church in which I served as an altar boy and the parish school, diagonally across the street, I attended. Both looked much as they did then and, in fact, as they did in my childhood.  The church seems not to have aged at all:  Although not an unattractive building, it's not an architectural or historic landmark of any sort.  The school, on the other hand, is an even more ordinary structure, and it did look shabbier from the outside than it did four years ago, not to mention the way it looked when I attended it forty years ago.  

One difference, though, between now and the recent or distant past is that I had no compulsion--from others or from within me--to go inside either one.  When I last went to the neighborhood, four years ago, I entered the church for the first time since my days as an altar boy. There, I confronted the "ghost" of the priest who molested me.

So, really, I no longer have any reason to go into that church.  Actually, the neighborhood felt almost as if it were no longer part of my life.  In one sense, it isn't:  I've changed.  And, of course, the neighborhood has changed.  It is because of those changes, in fact, that I was surprised to see the that the school, and even the church,  were still there:  Nearly everyone in that neighborhood is a Hasidic Jew.  In fact, all of the announcements I saw taped to lampposts and the signs on the stores are printed in Hebrew characters.

But even if the neighborhood were still filled with blue-collar Italian- and Irish-Americans and non-Hasidic Jews, as it was during my childhood, it would have felt like a neighborhood that was no longer, and perhaps had never been, mine.  Or, at least, the things I remembered would have been merely the past rather than my specific memories.  And, you might say that I've "moved on" from having confronted the "ghost" of that priest.  He is long dead, and the boy he fondled and whose lips he pressed against him has become the woman whose image on the distant horizon of his life tormented him precisely because she--that is to say, I--was the one who sustained him.  That I did that, and have become whom I've become, may be the only things that no one can take away from me.  And I'm certainly not about to let anyone--much less a ghost--steal them from me.  

That, by the way, is also the reason I have decided not to pursue it legally.  For one thing, those multi-million dollar settlements the media trumpets are only single notes in the cacophony the legal system.  For another, I simply don't want to relive or even recount what happened for lawyers and judges--or, for that matter, any other civil or ecclesiastical authority.  And, finally, I don't know how many years I have left.  I'd prefer not to spend them dealing with the legal system.

I don't know when, or whether, I'll go back.  For now, I hope I won't need to.