Nar Jag Var

Nar Jag Var (When I Was)

Poetry by Shanny Jean Maney

I’ve written about it before, I think,
But it always comes back to this one image

We are sitting in the nursing home with my husband’s grandmother
Watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade on a small television
We are huddled on beds, trying to be warm and joyful
Without being overwhelming
It is easy to overwhelm her

She looks outside, smiles and sighs,
“Remember the day we planted that tree?” she says, pointing to a tree outside her window, “That day was a great day.”

Of course, none of us planted that tree. The day it was planted, she lived hundreds of miles away, raising her children who were still quite small. She may have planted a nice tree somewhere, but not that tree, and not with us. But which one of us is going to correct her? On Thanksgiving? When that false memory makes her so happy?

Is it possible to feel nostalgic for something that never happened? Do our memories even need to be real in order for us to cling to them?

As a kid, I had a great story about the first time I caught a fish
My mom’s dad and stepmom lived in California.
One day, we rented a pontoon.
We ate sandwiches in the sun, let the fish
not-bite for what felt like hours and hours
And then, a tug.
“Shannon, I think you’ve got something!” my grandfather said. And we reeled in the line. We reeled and reeled, and out flopped this fish, struggling and shining in the sun.

The last time we visited before he died, I mentioned that day.
“Was that the day I got you to think you caught a fish?” he asked.

How many of our best moments are fabricated, scraps of reality stitched together by need or wish, carefully constructed moments based loosely on actual truth but overburdened with emotional truth. How much of our life story is actually a tree that someone else planted?

A friend of mine wrote a poem about when her boyfriend moved to New York City a week after 9/11. He spent hours squinting at the hole in the skyline, desperately trying to understand what it was supposed to look like. “Can you miss something you never saw?” he would ask her over and over.

“Can you miss something you never saw?”

“Can you miss something you never saw?”

Do you miss something you never saw?

Can you miss a time that never happened? Can you ache for times that weren’t yours?

In the end, all of my husband’s grandmother’s past was rewritten into a joyful narrative in which she was the hero. Her nostalgia was rooted in a reality that was never real. And there are times when I am jealous of the conviction she felt about planting that tree. How content and joy-filled that memory made her feel.

There are memories I wouldn’t mind the ocean of my brain swallowing entirely. There are moments I would love to recall with clarity that never actually happened. But I know they should have. And maybe that’s what nostalgia is for: to provide us with the sensation that it was all worth it. To place fog over the monotony and drudge that comes with most days. To focus our energies on protecting the possibility that things were good. The possibility that we were good. That we were good.

And if that’s the case, does it matter if it’s true?

I’ve written about it before, I think,
But it always comes back to this one image

We are sitting in the nursing home with my husband’s grandmother
Watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade
trying to be joyful

She looks outside, smiles and sighs,
“Remember the day we planted that tree?”
“That day was a great day.”

 

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