Jacob Lawrence, "Time," 1955
Jacob Lawrence, Time (1955)
Can a Game Be Literature?

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September 19, 2002:

I have no inner sense of the passage of time. Far as I can tell I'm late for third grade. Memory so vivid it can unwind like video. Was it yesterday that we last spoke, or was it years ago? Logically I understand that the present moment is an end point along an arc of prior moments. But emotionally I feel that the present has only as much existence as the arc as a whole. It's only by confronting me with mirrors that Life makes the logic feel real.

2:06 a.m. I'm pacing in the park. Boomers; salt; pools of streetlight in the darkness. The two of you stood me up. I've been here since 9:00 p.m. I don't understand why you're doing this. There's dew on the grass, and my footprints. There's a lot of pain, a lot of panic.

In some ways this is a marvelous talent. I can pick up a book left half-read many years ago and resume in the middle of the sentence where I stopped.

Your laugh echoes through the lonely alley. The two of you are walking slowly down the steep stairs from Prospect Street. Arm-in-arm, your head on his shoulder. You haven't noticed me. I walk toward you. You're laughing. You see me. You jerk to a sudden stop. Your hand recoils from his as though you'd been caught committing a crime. There's a look of fear on your face. For a moment you seem unsure what to do.

In other ways it's more like a birth defect. Especially because I end-up ignoring my friends. I think of them all the time, and somehow I feel that's adequate. Years go by. I haven't written, haven't called. We'll bump into each other and I'll be shocked at how their appearance has changed. And that they don't remember the previous conversation we left off, however long before.

Then you laugh. You hold out both arms, and nearly fall. He grabs your hips to hold you steady. I have to help: it takes us both to keep you standing. You smell bad. You both do. You haven't been bathing. Your hair is frazzled. I've never seen you with untidy hair. Even in sleep your hair was always beautiful. You would refuse to leave the house until you looked perfect. You've been drinking green beer, for Saint Patrick's day. Beer and cocaine. My heart goes out to you, despite my hurt and fear. I would protect you if I had that skill. I must look very silly. You kiss me, and I'm shocked. Why is she kissing me? She should be kissing him. You laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

Kafka wrote, "I am a memory come alive." What am I, then? More like a life invaded by memory.

You have no memory at all. You've perfected the art of amnesia. Perhaps it's too painful for you. Maybe you find it inconvenient. I don't know.

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