Listen. I used to tell this story of a girl and a dog roaming the swampy slow meetings of streams in the Connecticut hills. The truth is, I don’t remember the girl or the dog exactly. The truth is I make it grander than it likely was, girl and dog, splashing through shallows, scattering frogs. Oh, it happened. Just like it happened when my sister and I, lumbering beasts, deprived of our mobility by snow suits, waddled down to our neighbor’s pond to try the ice. It wasn’t cold enough, the layer not thick enough and we fell through, soaked up to our waists. Or maybe our knees. But we were shielded by the trees from our mother’s view, at least we thought so until we arrived home to a scolding. Sure, that happened. But I don’t remember the color of our coats. I’ll say mine was a stained glass patchwork, 90’s bright. I’ll say hers was pink. I’ll say my mother yelled and yelled. But I don’t remember for sure.
Listen. They get better in the retelling. They get taller when we become liars. We loan them a kind of grace. They hold their heads higher, their backbones carry them straighter. We use them as vehicles to talk about what we’re facing now. What we’re thinking about this instant, unless we learned something really big. Then the tale gathers a different kind of power, but we embellish it no less.
So the girl and the dog. I was the girl. The dog’s name was Chance. She had one blue eye and one brown. She looked something like a husky, something like a springer spaniel, because she was both. We terrorized the frogs, singly or together. And I learned from those wet days how like smoke a memory is. Or maybe how big bullfrogs were. Or how easy it is to catch a dog with arthritis in her hips. Or perhaps how we build our identities by telling it all again.
Listen, I’ll keep telling these tales so I don’t lose them. I’ll keep telling these tales so they don’t evaporate, so they don’t fall inward like a sinkhole in my mind, their foundations eroded with time. What I’m doing is not an act of remembering. It’s an act of reinvention. We are all architects of our past. We didn’t build our past actions; we are building our memories of them right now. We are all Gene Wolfe’s Latro, injured in the head so he can’t remember yesterday, who must always write down his doings, or they will forever be lost to him.
Listen. There was this girl. I’m pretty sure she was me. She had a dog. I think.