A girl from the Northwest once said, “I’ve…been contemplating the notion that modern forms of transportation are psychologically harmful. That is, we move physically so much faster than we are able to move mentally and emotionally. My mind and heart haven’t quite made it back here.” Spattered memories of her have been with me for some years now. It seems pointless, even ridiculous, that I allow myself to go back to those moments.
But I gave her a flower once. It was picked; I picked it from a tree where train tracks hover over water. I wish I knew the names of more flowers. If I did, I would know the world more intimately. Of course, the world would then be smaller, maybe less wild for its reduced size.
I gave her the unnamed flower. Even without a name, I still know it. I’m sure she does too. We might know it better for lack of nomenclature. Knowing its name, we might be swayed to confuse it with others that share the same tag or label. It would become diluted by symbols very much unlike itself, muddied by the dark, ink symbols now under my pen. Merely, it would be Rose or Lily. Calling it a flower has done enough damage, however necessary it might have been.
It’s enough to know that it was white, with five petals. It smelled sweetly. If it were garnished with a voice, it would have sung mellifluously, displaying at least a five octave range. As it was, it possessed the capability of rhythm, dancing as it did upon the branch of its tree. It continued the waltz even into my hand.
The breezes blew gently that Spring, though erratically. Flowers acted like patrons of old, setting their petals to sail in all directions. Perhaps one of their vessels would find the Northwest Passage. Others were less moved by the wind, though no less affected. She and I swayed, like the branches of neighboring trees, in and out of each other’s company. There was one time in particular when the breezes that blew would have us mingle.
She was sitting on the top step of the front stoop. I passed her and communicated nothing more than a smile. She smelled the flower in my hand as it floated by her cheek. Its fragrance was arresting. Her conversation halted as her focus turned solely to the flower. Her eyes, rising with the perfume, turned away from the flower to settle upon my nose. She was envious of my nose as she vicariously took a second sniff through it. After a deep drag, her eyes made friends with my eyes. As they chatted quietly, I leaned in curiously, to listen, desiring to make an informed intrusion. Before I could make sense of the whispers, what must have been part of the previous parsing hit her tongue revealing, “That flower smells amazing!”
I asked if she would like to keep it, which was my intention all along. This was a moment of drama. Her eyes did not speak quietly about this. They posed a serious question, hoping for an answer. A quick sideways glance seemed to ask, “What will it mean for me to take this…this.” Before her eyes could focus on an answer, I reached toward her and gave her the flower, the memory. Now it belongs to the content of her mind. It is no longer just a flower, a vague idea lacking specific reality. It’s a flower against her memory.
I imagine: if I were to walk toward the same stoop some other day in the future and she were to be sitting on the same top step, she could be reminded of the very same flower. The image of the flower would grow in her mind without the sounding of a single syllable. I would play the predicate to her subject; the stoop would be our conjunction, and these concrete realities would be words enough. These would be more specific than words.
Imagining further still, I would be walking up the sidewalk in my typical gait: my feet are turned slightly toward each other, resembling an overgrown duck. My eyes would turn from their focus on the ground and begin to move upward as I approach the stoop. There is another pair of feet.
Not stopping there, my eyes continue to rise. As they do, a couple of lips appear above a chin. These lips also begin to rise, curling upward into a smile. Soon, two eyes meet mine. They, like the previous pair of lips, are smiling at me. As our eyes rise to meet each other’s, our jaws loosen, dropping only slightly. In this moment, we each remember the flower in its particularity–without a word, without a name. At least, I envision it could happen this way.
There is a photograph that is growing older with every word that I write. She’s on a train, looking out the window to her left. The seat to her right is vacant. She’s looking for an answer. Her eyes seem always looking for an answer. I wrote to her about this photograph. “Alone on a train….” It reminded me of a song.
Even now, I can’t help but wonder if she thought of me while riding that train. I wonder if she ever held me in her mind at all. Maybe she did. It could be that she was thinking of me right up to the moment before the photo was taken, and it was the brightness of the flash that finally darkened the memory of me. Yet there was still enough of me behind her eyes to be reflected in the photo. Probably, this is why I’m so captivated by that photo. We’re together. She’s on the train, and I’m in her eyes.
I went on a journey of my own. Many moments from my trip have been captured, though I’ve never seen them. They now exist, placarded on photosensitive paper, in someone else’s house. They are children of the marriage between light and chemicals. I feel like a distant uncle. That is, if I were to meet them, I’d feel like an estranged uncle. I prefer the images in my head. Memory is more like a film than a photo album anyway. It moves.
I’ve been moving through great distances. I’ve driven across the entire country–chasing a dream, resuscitating a memory, hoping for more than an apparition. I’ve moved through time and space. But now, admiring Mount Hood from a distance, I stand alone in a garden, and hold another flower. I’m here at the top of a terrace. It’s not a stoop. So the dialect is different, but the language is the same.
The frozen peaks of the mountain, even from this far, stir a chill. And I wonder if she’ll ever make it back here.