that I was back at Camp Timberline in Mokuleia, Hawai'i, where I'd spent at least one weekend a year at chorus rehearsal camp from sixth grade till I went to college, plus here and there a second or even third weekend in a year for some school event or another. I dreamed that I was there as the adult I am now, with a lot of the other alumnae of the chorus. But my sister was also there, and some other non-alumni of the choir and friends I'd met as an adult; none of them had been to the camp before. I couldn't wait to show them this place that held so many of my memories.
The first place I wanted to take them was the mess hall, which I remembered being up a small flight of stairs. But the stairs were gone, apparently succumbed to neglect and covered with dirt. In their place was a steep hill, which I thought I could run up if I was quick enough. I tried, but found myself on my hands and knees, grasping handfuls of dirt, making slow and clumsy progress--while some of my fellow alumnae ran lightly past me, and quickly out of my field of vision.Eventually I found the old staircase, which was so much steeper than I remembered that I found myself trying to climb it like a ladder. But the wood was rotten and crumbled away in my hands as I grabbed it. I was already halfway up the hill, which seemed to be getting taller and taller, and I didn't want to fall. I found myself in a race against the crumbling wood, hoping I could grab it and pull myself upwards in the split-second between when I touched the ladder and when it disintegrated. It wasn't working, but it slowed my descent from a free fall into a slow, scrambling sink.
I sank down the hillside with my hands full of dirt and rotten wood, slowly, in spite of all my flailing, getting further and further away from the place I'd hoped to revisit some of my happier childhood memories.
It has been a difficult couple of weeks for me, recovering slowly from my trip to Tampa and the flu I seem to have brought home with me. In Tampa, my sister and I went through what felt like a million old photo albums that my father and his new wife did not want to store any more, filled with pictures of my parents as a young couple and the two of us as children. We mailed them to ourselves. We were presented with my mother's jewelry, most of which we vividly remember her wearing; we held her wedding ring set and wondered about another mysterious wedding ring set which we'd never seen her wear. We don't know anyone to ask about it. We divided the jewelry and brought it back to our respective homes.
Home, I held the pieces of jewelry in my hands. I pored over the photographs of my mother as a teenager, as a young woman, as a new mother, as a mother to two young women as emotionally fragile as she herself was, and I tried to find answers to questions I can't ask her anymore. I tried on her wedding ring set and found she had the same, tiny, difficult-to-find ring size as I do.
It is not enough.
I have spent the last two weeks mostly watching reruns of The Wonder Years, which I remembered after I started watching it is a show my mother loved. I haven't watched it since it originally aired starting twenty years ago. I didn't remember more than the very basic elements of its plot. But amazingly, as the episodes rolled forward, I remembered exactly the spots where she'd burst into laughter. I could almost hear her. I heard, certainly, the absence of her laughter in the spots where I hadn't realized I was expecting it until it wasn't there. I remembered, with cold-water clarity, her voice, which is the part of her, more than any other, I always fear I am forgetting, and the sound of her laughter, which I always fear I didn't hear enough.
I think I know what my dream was about. It was my subconscious poking at me, reminding me of the impossibility of regaining my childhood. It was telling me that no matter how many afternoons I spent staring at old photos or how many baubles I tried on, my past is at the top of a steep and unclimbable hill, something I can try to examine in a limited, distant way, but never re-enter. Trying to come back under its cover is futile, unproductive, messy, exhausting. Nothing there can be changed or kept. It is time to come all the way back into the present.