‘Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.’

-Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami

Not a book for people who like neat endings

I read this line in Murakami’s dreamlike book, published in 2002, and it struck me immediately. The character speaking this sentence is a 50-year-old woman trapped between two worlds, the world of the living and the dead. My situation is not nearly as dramatic, but I do feel like I am living between two worlds. It’s partly what this blog was supposed to be about, although it has meandered a little.

For those who have not read this from the beginning, a quick recap: I am American, but I have lived most of my adult life in the UK. After so much time abroad, I missed what I thought of as home. I’d never known the United States as a responsible, grown woman, and I wanted to find out if it’s somewhere I could see myself. I lived with this feeling for many years, and I decided to do something about it. I moved back to California, where I was born, about a year ago. The decision was taken quickly, and I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for.

Yet I have not totally let go of the UK. In fact, I am planning to return there next month – and the move is permanent. It’s not necessarily the outcome I would have wanted, but times are tough in the United States. Unemployment remains high, and despite one job offer on the other side of the country, I’ve not found anything else that would support a small family on the west coast. It would be a case of risking it all and continuing to live with my mother in San Diego until I could be financially independent. It could take a while.

Since my husband remained in London for work, I needed to make a decision one way or another. To stay or to go back to something more financially secure? I decided to go and cut my losses for now. We can’t survive another year apart.

So while I wait for the inevitable, I feel like I am already living amongst memories. It’s a strange feeling. When you know that you will be leaving friends and family for a permanent move many thousands of miles away, ordinary moments take on a new dimension. It’s a bit like looking at things through the viewfinder of a camera. You focus in on the small details, trying to make them sharper; you take everything in and hope to remember it like a series of snapshots.

Unfortunately, memory is such a slippery thing. Like time, it doesn’t stay static or still. It squirms and wriggles, even though all you want to do is hold it tight. Already, my life in London feels incredibly distant, like I am watching scenes played out on a stage with opera glasses. I am totally disconnected from those experiences now. I have memories, of course, but I can see that with time they would start to feel like they belong to someone else.

As a parent I am already familiar with the feeling of seeing things for perhaps the last time. It happens nearly every day in the life of small children. They don’t notice it, of course, but you do. I watch my two-year-old turning into a child – I see her little belly grow flatter, her chubby face start to sharpen; the baby curls are loosening as her hair grows; her legs drape well below my waist when I pick her up. As she perfects her vocabulary, she is leaving her baby babble behind. I watch her sometimes when she is asleep, and I know that she will one day look like a girl and not a baby with the tiny heart-shaped face. I’ve seen this change in another child once already. It’s a natural process, but it’s still a little painful.

I think about trying to slow time down, more than once. I know from experience that this last month will instead feel like it’s accelerating. The days will run away from me, faster than a sprinter on a track field.

This is how Murakami puts it: ‘Time weighs down on you like an old, ambiguous dream. You keep on moving, trying to slip through it. But even if you go to the ends of the earth, you won’t be able to escape it.’

By the way, I highly recommend this book if you can deal with an ending that will leave you with more questions than answers.



Filed under American life, Books, motherhood, transitions

10 responses to “Memories

  1. Beautiful words, hon. Do you mean to makes us emotional or is it my PMS kicking in? 😉

    • I feel like I constantly have PMS these days. This last month is always going to have a bit of nostalgia – I’m going to be thinking about things (and people) I leave behind. But I know from experience that you move on and make new memories somewhere else.

  2. Carla, this is beautifully written. And you’ve sold me on reading “Kafka on the Shore.” Thinking of you. The upside of all your relocation is that we’ll finally get to see each other again: it seems we’re committed to staying until Mar 2013.

    • You should definitely read the book. I really enjoyed it, although I’m not entirely sure I understood it. I think it’s a matter of taking what you can from it. Like any good book, it has stayed with me, and I keep thinking about it. I would love to discuss it with you, perhaps when I visit you in Ireland. There are definite upsides to the relocation – there always are – but it’s tinged with a bit of sadness, too.

  3. Hey Carla,
    Beautifully written. I’m going to miss having you live so close to Vegas but I knew after we chatted when I was last in SD that you wouldn’t be staying. You’re heart wasn’t in it. Anyway, Wayne and the kids and I will be in SD the whole month of July so I want to see you before you leave. Much love to you and the family.


    • I guess perhaps my heart wasn’t truly in it. Or maybe Emlyn had something to do with my reluctance. I don’t think I really had the guts to see it through because it would mean a lot of sacrifice in the beginning, and there were no guarantees. I will be around until July 9. I hope to see you before then. Time is running short.

  4. Wonderful post Carla. I for one am looking forward to your return! x

  5. Valerie Krause

    Lovely post. The legs draping past my waist made me tear up. I can never remember how my kids used to look. I feel like i am in the present with them 100% and that leaves no part of me for the past and then i get sad that i cannot remember how it used to be. I look at pictures and i feel nostalgic but at the same time detached because it is like looking at a person i do not remember. I try to take pictures with my mind but they don’t seem to stick.

    • Exactly. I feel detached from these memories too. No matter how much you might try to freeze a moment in time, it doesn’t really work. My mom cannot remember anything about us as small children, but she doesn’t seem to mind. I probably should adopt this indifference to amnesia.

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