Ten Spare Moments

I’m having a busy weekend, so instead of writing a full-fledged post, I’m raiding my journal (again) and pulling some entries from it.

Recently I read A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. The story is compelling, but I especially appreciated the narrator’s meditations on what and how we remember. At one point, he says:

How often do we tell our own story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around us to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.

In response, I’ve been trying to gather my told and untold memories. My brain formed some of these “spare moments” through retelling, but others appeared when I tried to recollect the twisted and irrelevant detail I’ve cut from the stories. Still others are new altogether. They came to me as from another person’s life.

The ten below share themes, and a random number generator determined their order:


On my left thigh, just above my knee, are parallel scars from running past a fallen barbed wire fence.  I’d stayed all afternoon at Sylvia Jenning’s and was rushing home at dusk. I wasn’t worried about getting there before dinner or curfew. I was just too excited to walk.


Randy Carlson tried to buy my friendship in grade school. He would put a tattered novelty catalog in my hand and say, “I’ll buy you something if you tell people I’m your friend.” After putting him off nearly a whole year, I relented when I saw a pair of wind-up false teeth I wanted. I had second thoughts by the time they arrived. The choppers rattled across a desktop, and I told Randy no. Then he cried.


The last time I remember holding my mom’s hand I was in fourth grade asking her if it was okay if I wanted Debbie Bertling to be my girlfriend.


A former student once sought me out at an alumni cocktail party. “I just came over to thank you for putting me down,” he said, “it was hard at the time, but now I feel like it was just the sort of tough love I needed.” I searched for his name for another hour and came up with nothing.


After the car hit me, the first injury I noticed was my hand, sprung from trying to grip the channel at the base of the windshield to keep from sliding off the hood as the car braked. For a few minutes, I thought that was my only injury. The driver apologized and apologized and teared up. I hugged her. “It’s okay,” I said, “I’m sorry this happened.”


The copper-colored plaster of paris bust of Abraham Lincoln I bought in the white elephant booth broke almost as soon as I got home from the church fair. Seeing my disappointment, my father appeared a few days later with a clear puck-sized paperweight with a Greek coin suspended inside. I hammered it apart to retrieve the coin—it was plastic and spongy.


In college, my programming course focused on Fortran and, for my final project I made the computer write a sestina. A random number generator chose a sequence of parts of speech, like “noun verb article adjective end word” or “adverb verb article noun preposition end word.” Then it randomly chose each part of speech from word banks I’d populated with vocabulary I liked. When the computer finally spit out the poem, it sounded just like me, were I more given to ranting madly about lost love.


Some high school friends agreed to pay me twenty dollars if I ran one mile barefoot in the snow. When I finished, they slapped me on the back and handed me a bundle of ones. A girl from my math class stood nearby looking on with disdain. I had hoped to ask her out, but she was only polite after that.


During one of my first years as a teacher, a sophomore girl visited every time we had a mutual free period. Finally, taxed by talking to her, I hid in the faculty lounge. When I returned to my classroom, she’d written her name on every post-it note in my desk. For the next two years, whenever I used one, I first had to erase her name.


I sketched a college girlfriend while she was sleeping, but—unhappy with the result—I never showed her. I didn’t throw it away though. After we broke up, I looked at it every few days for a couple of weeks, hoping looking might bring her back.


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Filed under Aging, Doubt, Essays, Experiments, Identity, life, Memory, Recollection, Thoughts, Writing

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