I’ve read, or heard people say, after a loved one dies the memory of what they looked like fades in a blur of time. That hasn’t been my experience. First off, don’t they have a photograph? Unless they’ve fled from a pogrom, or went through a hurricane and no family albums survived, there must be a picture. Or, it could be their imagination is faulty. There must be people, visually challenged, who aren’t never-forget-a-face types. It may be the pain of loss prevents them, protects them, somehow, from the recollection; suppresses the memory. I’m not sure. I may forget when and where something was said, but I see the face saying it. I lost a five dollar bet with Kid when she was 15 about a scene in an old movie. One of those 40’s madcap comedies we both love made with a stable of great Hollywood character actors. I saw the actor in my mind, and could imitate him giving the line, but I bet on the wrong film. I can call up my father’s face, the beginning of jowls perspiring, bristled with whiskers, like a clear cut slope after a rain, his handsome forehead, eyes the color of pumpkin pie, small ears, features as clear to me as if he’d just left the room. He died almost fifty years ago when I was a teenager. In fact, seeing pictures of him gives me the creeps, but I can look at him in my mind.
A boy, a hellion, I hung out with because I craved something sensational in those days, died, like James Dean, alone in a one car crash. He had oily blond, wiry hair, combed back from a part on the left. Some years later, when Jeff Bridges was first appearing in movies, he reminded me of my friend Mike, whose last name, it occurs to me, was also Bridges. He’d encourage me with manic energy (which today would have been medicated) and his coyote laugh, to burn rubber in my Dad’s new GMC pickup, to steal booze and cigarettes, to skip school. It isn’t Jeff I see in my memory’s eye, it’s Mike. If I could lay hands on a yearbook, I know his picture would match my recollection, but, I don’t need the confirmation. Ask me what year I was in Shaw’s Misalliance, and was it before - or after - I did Michael Weller’s Fishing, I’d have to pause, place it, chronologically, by the face of lovers at the time. It’s the reason I write, and usually about the past: I see it, and that vision, a sense memory, helps me work out how I felt, or feel now; what I was wearing, textures, the light, an expression. When our friend Audrey died suddenly in 2003, we were all those things that people are, sad, shocked, it can’t have happened, missing her. Now that it’s been ten years or near about, I could write of her, a rectangle of a woman with bird legs, delicate hands, her voice, thought process, her loyalty, wisdom, the collection of miniature chairs, her beach house, the day she showed us her first cell phone. I see Kate Rooney, a childhood playmate from Kansas farm days, with a fox face, kiwi-green eyes, gamine, a gentle hoyden. I never got enough of that face. We’d play imaginary games beneath bridges, climb trees, in and out of barns, walk the fields, talking for hours, sometimes, seriously, about the dysfunction of our families, though we didn’t know it was called that at the time. Notwithstanding, a start of a smile was always on her lips and her laugh was like a trill of a golden flute. Kate didn’t die. After elementary school, our friendship became a wave in the hall, and since college, we’ve never seen each other. I could give more details of her.
My step daughter, Shannon, was about 12 the last time I saw her in 1978. I was stoned and on one of the arranged visits after I divorced her mother. I asked her if she had been smoking marijuana yet. It had been a couple of years since we’d lived together, and she was in New York public school, so I didn’t know. Did she want some? No, she said, thankfully. We had lunch, she got on a bus, and it was the last time I would ever see her. She told her mother I offered her marijuana, which I had, sort of, conversationally. Robin called to say she would not let Shannon see me again. Probably, deep down, it was what I wanted. I was not meant to be a weekend father at that time of life, though there was a cost to her in my finding out. It was a shameful way to go about it. I wish that girl well, smart, wonderful kid. I see her face, too.