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International village…

August 10, 2010

To classmates,

later to his students,

Farmer’s medical memory seemed encyclopedic and daunting,

but it was not inexplicable…

“I date everything to patients,” he told me once…

Patients,

it seemed,

formed not just a calendar of events but a large mnemonic structure,

in which certain faces and small quirks—

were like an index to the symptoms,

the pathologies,

the remedies for thousands of ailments…

The problem of course was that he remembered some patients all too well…

In later years he didn’t like to talk about Chouchou…

he told me,

“I take active precautions not to think about him…”

By then he’d already described the case in print several times…

To me,

he simply said,

“He died in the dirt…”

— in Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

I’m known for having a freakish memory…

It never worked for me when I was reading notes and textbooks come exam time,

but I could always put a name to a face and a story of feeling in ways that would astound old friends…

And for the past few years I’ve worked hard at breaking it all down,

and sending a lot of unnecessary information down river…

Thankfully when velcro gets old not at much fluff can stick to it,

because it doesn’t have the same grab,

as the barbs are already full…

Whenever I go back to visit my old school,

the children all want to know if I remember their names…

It’s getting harder and harder for me…

Not because I don’t remember them,

but the names have become less important…

They stand there looking at me in groups of ten and more…

Do you know who I am???

they ask,

one by one…

Faces searching mine for some sign of recognition,

and remembering…

More and more I’m having to say,

I remember you…

I know you’re face,

and you feel like someone I know,

but I need some help with your name…

I ask them to hold their name in their mind…

And then I try to relax mine,

which is hard when you’re under pressure to make a child’s day,

in front of what feels like the whole school…

I start with a first letter sound,

and work on from that,

turning it into a rhyming game…

I don’t have a problem with any of the children who have been in my class,

after writing all of those reports cards,

and singing the Name Game over and over…

It’s the ones who haven’t been in my class that are a bit more tricky to recall,

name wise…

And it seems equally important to them that they’ve been remembered…

I see the smile on their faces,

and I hear them say as they walk away from me,

down the hall to class,

in little whispers,

She knew my name…

She remembered me…

And she wasn’t even my teacher…

I remember the first time I mustered up to go back to visit the school,

six months or more after I’d unexpectedly resigned,

and swung off the uvula of great blue whale,

into the dark, choppy waters,

of uncharted territory…

One girl ran up to give me a hug,

in the parking lot…

Shiny as a buttercup…

She was in grade four by then and she said,

super-seriously,

searching my face,

Hi…

You didn’t tell us you were leaving…

I said,

I didn’t really know it was going to happen until it happened…

She said,

You never said goodbye…

I said,

I didn’t know that I was going for sure,

until the very last minute…

It was scary for me to leave…

But I had to so that I could grow…

And then I paused to hear what she really wanted to know,

and I added,

I came back to see you as soon as I could stop crying…

She looked up at me and something settled…

A knowing that she was missed,

and that our history together had mattered,

a lot…

She asked,

Are you working in another school,

with other kids???

Other words for Are you loving other people???

I said,

No…

I thought I would be by now but I guess I’m not ready yet…

And neither are the other people…

Some more things have to fall into place…

She looked relieved,

like the betrayal she’d worried about,

and anticipated,

hadn’t happened…

She’s not the only one who wonders where I am now…

Every time I go back,

they all want to know,

acting casual,

with some hesitance in their dying curiosity,

like they’re not sure that they’re ready for the truth,

Are you working in another school yet???

With other children???

And when I tell them,

No…

I needed to be at home for my children,

and to get ready for children whom I haven’t yet met,

shoulders drop,

and relax with relief…

The stones I carry in mine,

melting a little bit more…

The last time I went back for the grade seven graduation one boy said to me,

I think you’ve been working on a book…

A book about what children know,

and adults forget…

I smiled back in a breath of silence,

exhausted from so much remembering,

and said,

I don’t know,

but you might be right…

Can you please just tell me your name???

He looked at me,

with a face as bright as Time Square at Christmas,

It’s okay,

I know that you know who I am…

My name is Ernest…

Starshine wrote me an e-mail yesterday…

She said she was visiting the Plains of Abraham,

and that in the evening they were going on a ghost tour…

Deer mice have crossed my path twice in the last twenty-four hours…

Miniature ladies saying something about cycles of time,

and paying attention to all,

of the little things in life…

Run your fingers through my soul...

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