On the cusp of returning home, the Nihilist finds herself wrung dry, cocooned as she has been for twelve days with her immediate family in a passing imitation of filial harmony. Escaping routine for a couple of weeks is like a drug—a numbing, demotivating drug. Oh, right. That’s why people go on vacation.
Now, as my family sleeps upstairs in our room at this utterly undistinguished hotel, I sit in the breakfast area lulled by the murmur of other guests. The TV in the hotel fitness room told me of flooding in Syracuse, a few towns away, where overnight torrents drowned the streets. I feel at a curious remove from myself, though not in a bad way. Maybe this is what it feels like to be relaxed!
Yet the future haunts me even as enjoy the moment. At this nondescript laminate table, I write down my thoughts as I have done nearly daily since I was old enough to hold a pen, the latest installment in the chronicle of my inner life that stretches back decades. I keep my thoughts on paper, in bound notebooks, each labeled descriptively, if not originally, Journal.
If I save my journals, will my as-yet-not-conceived granddaughter someday slit open a mildewed box to discover a bittersweet, fascinating, and burdensome treasure trove?
“You’ll never guess what I found,” she’ll marvel to her sons. “Grandma Audrey’s journals.”
Will the journals become to her what the by-products of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives have become to me—bittersweet, fascinating, burdensome? Bittersweet because they’re all I have left that’s tangible and fascinating because they offer more, in many ways, than a conversation or even years of living together ever could, a raw look inside their minds. And a burden for the same reason. These bits of their lives are a reminder—as is everything, it seems, for this time-and-mortality-obsessed writer—of time flowing irretrievably away.
I spent the last five days of my vacation sorting mementos in what once was my parents’ house. I found: A clinical note about one of my grandfather’s patients, 1914; my father’s report card from the Board of Education, The City of New York, 1935; my mother’s Summary of the Dissertation Submitted in Partial Satisfaction of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, 1955; a holiday card, drawn by me, featuring people with outsized heads and stick legs, 1965.
The intensity of effort these represent boggles my mind. To learn chemistry, quantum mechanics, engineering; to treat patient, make a life, graduate from MIT, marry and raise a child. And all for what? They are all dead now, the students and their teachers, the doctor and his patients.
They live on in me and in their grandchildren. The pen that will not be still is a thread connecting then to later. Progenitors and progeny roll from a little-understood past into a barely comprehensible future with the present moment as the pivot point, the looking glass, with me as the filter, the essential and elusive medium.
Will my granddaughter go home to her unimaginable house in a city I may never see to stash the stacks of journals in an unused storage area? Will she bring them out on days when she feels particularly sullen or depressed or nostalgic and sit cross-legged with a glass of wine beside her, reading her grandmother’s words, wondering at what went on inside my head and at how the strand of personal history reaches from the past to her and through her?
Or will her concerns be more immediate: the flooding and burning earth I have bequeathed her by my negligence, the untenable heat and the gnawing worry about where her next meal will come from as she tumbles into a future so different from my present I can barely conceive of it?
My next post will return to more practical matters, I promise.