Something to remember me by
When my grandmother went to Egypt, the third time, she brought me back a tiny golden camel statue. If you open the hump on its back, you won’t find water, but air. A place to place a diamond or two. A ring, a ten cent Euro. Or, in my case, a tiny scrap of paper from a notepad with an owl motif.
That paper was blank when I first put it in there, as is my memory when I try to recall that date. But I put it on a shelf high above my head, allowing the camel to watch me grow. Allowing it to observe the passage of time. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Being the only child in the house made me lonely, but never that lonely. I mean, I never personified the gift, assigning it the role of a sentinel. But I did give it an even greater responsibility, which was keeping my own growth a secret from my future self.
“You keep what in the souvenir I brought to you from Egypt?” my grandmother would absolutely say if I ever told her about the tendency I have—you know, the one that involves periodically opening the camel’s back, removing the scrap of paper, signing it with a sentence of encouragement and the date on the calendar, and putting it back in its hideaway, after it is perfectly folded, of course? That one?
I don’t know why it started, but I do know the most recent time, not the last time, I climbed up on my bed frame to retrieve it. Today. I wrote on that paper today. Just as I have been writing on it since circa 2015.
This tendency is weird, and I will not be surprised if I go my whole life without finding anyone else who does anything like this. I feel as if I am trying to describe a concept so familiar, yet because the context exists only on the pinpoint of my identity, it feels impossible to articulate. But I want myself to remember who I am. More importantly, I want myself to remember who I was. Where I’ve been, what I’ve been through. The mundane. The altering. And if anyone decides to dust that shelf one day, or if anyone decides to get a closer look at that golden souvenir, then I suppose that they’ll get to remember, too.
The truth is, I’ve gone merely twenty years existing on the same plane of other human beings who also have the ability to remember who I am, and each interaction I have had could fill a million souvenir camels, and then some.
I dropped a quote from “The Devil Wears Prada” in a class discussion today. My English teacher was the only one who recognized it.
I played my “My Heart Will Go On” music box, which I bought for $8 in Chicago’s Chinatown, for the girl I drive home from school. She seemed a little uncomfortable.
My friends just huddled around me in our design studio, trying to decipher the agricultural symbols on my turtleneck. Should I tell them that I only bought it at Goodwill because I thought it was a Christmas sweater?
How many of these moments do you want to remember? Seriously, I’m asking. How many trees have you carved your initials into, just to prove you’ve stood under its branches? How many times have you taken a polaroid and written the date in the blank space below? Or, better yet, jumped in the background of a random group’s picture, just to include yourself in their memory of their good friend’s birthday dinner? It’s all wet cement, these moments in time, and these actions are our handprints that we just have to press into the ground before it dries. And that camel of mine is no different.
something to remember me by
When I evacuate this place for the last time, not the first. When I follow the road signs, the blue circular metal, that help me seek higher ground—a ground so high, I’ll never have to come back down again. Traveling inward. Running like the wind and the water to somewhere high and dry. Not a roof, not a mountaintop. Some place higher, but not too high so I can still see the flood make a river out of a road. That fervor is something I’ll have to see.
And after it’s all over, no matter how little water is still pooled in the potholes of the pavement, I won’t be coming back again. I probably won’t even continue to stare. Instead, I’ll wonder. Will you stand on my doorstep? Will you spray paint an X on my wall?
What will you look for? What will you find?
When I evaporate with the water, when I blow in the breeze with the birdsong, I’ll visit your windowsill with the warmth of the Sun. I’ll tap dance on your tin roof, then sit on the horizon line to give my legs a break. Perhaps on that bench, the one the lake and sky made for me in a mindless collaboration, I’ll open a book or five, and never finish any of them. They’ll just sit on my bedside table with pressed flowers for bookmarks, turning more into decorations with each passing day.
Maybe that’s what you’ll find: those unfinished books of mine.
When I burn like paper in the heat of July, I’ll rise with the smoke and billow in the sky. I’ll hang there for a while, until your chimney smoke meets me on a night in November. I’ll lay on my back, gazing at the atmosphere as an outstretched cloud, until the sunset uses my back as a canvas. I hope you’ll step outside and watch as I turn pink and blue. The most beautiful artifact hovering above your eyes. And I pray you find it: the miraculous halo of a cotton candy sky.
When I dissolve like spun sugar that lands on your tongue, I’ll stay and listen for the laughter in your tears. I’ll listen for words I’ve never heard before, and if my curiosity piques, maybe I’ll begin to use them, too. I’ll fill my senses with your sentences about tonight’s lasagna and tomorrow’s worries, and I’ll look at the world through the gaps in your teeth, and it’ll still be as beautiful as it was from above. It’ll be just as confusing and dangerous and maddening and bare.
But it won’t be silent.
So when these words dance on your lips as you read them to yourself, your voice will fill the world. And I’ll float out with each consonant and comma, drifting to my highest point—my final point—feeling perfectly content that I was able to leave you with something to remember me by.