I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leaving

I’ve spent the last two months of lockdown reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I read volume one, Swann’s Way, years ago, and while I have shied away from the other five volumes, reading all six is something I have always wanted to do, and this fall and winter felt like the best time to do so. And I was right. I am on book four and every page has been, in its own way, pure joy.

Proust’s lingering theme throughout the books is of course memory. The vagaries of it. How it shifts and changes. How it is influenced by others and by our own habits. And how through seemingly unrelated present events we can be suddenly bathed in sweet memories of days gone by that we had either forgotten or failed to recognize as something important, something that mattered, something we should have been paying attention to.

When I first came across the game of cricket in 2007 I would read about the game or listen to broadcasts of County matches or watch the slim pickings of highlights on YouTube at the time and my stomach would be filled with this very real, very tangible feeling of warmth. Like I was just told a piece of really good news. This feeling lasted I think maybe a few months. After that, it was quietly replaced by the habit of reading about and listening to and watching cricket matches. The habit took away the new. As it always does.

But sometimes it comes back. Sometimes when I am able to see the game like I used to see it, the warmth returns. To describe the feeling as pleasant is to not do it the justice it deserves. I cannot control what brings it back, it is just there. And I am washed in sublime joy that is also melancholy — even deeply melancholy — because I know it is fleeting. And it’s not a spectacular moment on the pitch that brings back the feeling either. It can be the way a shadow plays on the crowd. Or the angle of the sun on the shoulders of a fielder in the deep. Or just the shot of the grass in England in the spring. Whatever it happens to be, the joy returns, and then it is gone again.

For 13 years now I have been so happy that I decided to start paying attention to this old game on some random afternoon in April. And I have been happy because of these small moments. A few seconds here, a few seconds there, when I am transported back to when I was young, and the world was opening up, and the skies were clearing, and I was watching cricket in the evenings on a laptop in my old house, utterly and blissfully unaware of all that was to come. When I was looking ahead and only ahead, instead of now when all I can do is look back and hold on.

*

We are only memories. They are what define us, what we use to define others. There is no changing this. It is simply the way it is. But the problem is that our memories are not infallible. They are broken and shattered and all we can do is put the pieces back together as best we can. And often what we piece together is wrong, but we believe it wholeheartedly, even if we know in our heart that it never could have happened the way we think that it happened.

And then we forget or never remember to remember the moments we wish we could. So many things that I wish I could remember are gone forever. I have written about this before here. I don’t remember the last time I walked the dog before I left. I don’t remember the last time I did laundry or changed the bedding. I don’t remember, to paraphrase the lyric that titles this post, the last thing that I said as I was leaving.

These gaps haunt me. I don’t know why. Maybe because I know that if I could remember the humdrum of my life before I left I could reach back to it now, still, when a certain spring breeze kicks up on a late afternoon or a bird calls across a green lawn. I mourn the loss of those memories because I will never, not ever, get them back, the way I get back those early days of following cricket. Not a memory, but a feeling.

That is not to say that I don’t have memories of the years before I left. I do. Vivid ones. But because the last memories are gone, or are tainted with the stirrings of divorce and heartbreak, there is a gulf between them and now, a gulf I can’t seem to cross no matter how many times I have tried. A gulf that doesn’t exist in cricket because there was no breaking point between the discovery and the now. And this is also why I am able to use cricket as tool for memory. I have followed the game through 13 years of trial and failure and joy. And it marks time for me. Guides me back to the good news. For when I am reminded of those early days of following the game, I remember not cricket per se but a feeling and a time and a place. Things that have nothing to do with the game. It’s another part of the reason why I love the game, that I came to it and didn’t leave. There are no lasts with cricket. No gaps to haunt or gulfs to cross. It just is, running along side me, as I toll through the days.

*
The last memory I have of my father is on the Saturday before he died. He is standing in the kitchen. It’s dinner time and the sun is low through the trees, but it is still light outside. He is leaning against the counter talking to my mother. We had just come back from Saturday evening Mass. My little brother and dad had stayed. Dad is telling mom about what they did while we were gone. He is happy. There is some excitement in his voice. I don’t really remember why.

I have many memories of him. I have tried over the years to write them all down. There is the Sunday late afternoon when we are driving back from his brother’s house through cornfields. There is the time he taught me to tie my shoes, a hard candy in his mouth. There is the Christmas morning when my mother gave him a fancy new road bicycle and he rode it up and the down the frozen street in front of our house — a normally busy road silent with early winter Christmas.

But my favorite is the last one I have of him. That Saturday afternoon in October. His sweatshirt and jeans and sneakers. Leaning against the counter. It closes a chapter. I have spent countless hours in that kitchen with him in my mind, on that last Saturday. Letting my timeline heal.

The timeline of my marriage does not have a final memory that is not colored with sadness or loss. It just falls off a cliff in my mind. All so all I can really do is follow the cricket, use it to tie together my days, and slowly close the gaps between the now and the before. Turn on the TV on a winter evening during the Australian summer, and wait for the morning sun on the pitch to be just right so the memories pull me back, and lead me across the broken glass of time, to a place where the humdrum of my former life finally clicks into place, and my eyes start to drift forward again.

*

Happy New Year, everyone. I have lots of plans for the site in 2021. I might not have written much in the last couple of months, but I am still here.

I hope you are all healthy and safe. And that we all have better days ahead.

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