Pulling Strings

It always impresses me when people say they can recall conversations and events that they experienced as far back to when they were toddlers. I can remember all the birthdays of people who made even the slightest appearance in my life. I can recall my old girl scout troop number as well as the names of everyone in it. I can even recite the lyrics of the cheers I used to chant from the sidelines of football games in middle school. But I still feel as though there are years missing from my internal archives. So much of my life feels like vague nostalgia for irrelevant happenings tied loosely together by strong, vivid flashbacks. Some of these images are burned in like a thick envelope seal holding in feelings that are too heavy to roam freely throughout my body.

I am young, no idea how young or what time of the year it is, and I am in my aunt’s basement in Ohio. My whole family is downstairs waiting out a tornado warning. The adults all seem calm. It’s obvious that they knew everything was going to be okay. I’m playing it cool on the outside but on the inside I am utterly petrified that we are all going to die.

I am fifteen and I’m working as a barista – my first real job. I’ve just made a cappuccino for a man who takes one sip as he hands me his cash. I can tell he doesn’t like it. He turns to leave and tosses the full cup in the trash can on his way out the door.

I am still fifteen and I am at my dad’s office just outside of town. We are watching a set of four tornados touch down in the distance, miles away from us and what appears to be right above where our house sits in town. My mom is at home with Sam and my grandma. Scott is trying to call her but the phone lines have already been sucked up into the storm.

I am sixteen now, on the phone with my parents who are a little over an hour out of town. They need to come home right now. Scott is laying on the floor, heaving, convulsing, drenched in sweat. They get back just in time for his final seizure of the evening, his first Grand Mal seizure. I have my brother’s eyes and my dad’s eyes at the forefront of my memory – one set rolling back into his head, the other welling up with tears. 

I am eighteen and I’ve just woken up in a stranger’s room, naked with a rolling headache. A toilet flushes from the other side of the bathroom door and I don’t wait to see who emerges. I’ve already gotten clothed enough to flee the house, running barefoot down a street I’ve never seen before.

I am twenty, then twenty one, then twenty two, then twenty three answering a familiar phone call that is going to obliterate another little chunk of my heart. My recollections of each time someone I loved has died are so clear that I could write an entire dissertation on those sets of 60 second phone calls.

I get these fleeting flashes that I replay like a catchy song in my head before they disappear again. Of course I have memories of the fresh air that was breathed into my body when I finally, truly fell in love or the sound of my grandma saying “Amy, look-ey here” whenever she’d place a tricky puzzle piece. Of course my temporal lobe isn’t this damp, musty room where I go to brood, but it seems like my ability to hold onto my most disturbing sensations is the strongest of all. Even though I can’t call it nostalgia because that implies a desire to go back, I can’t stop pushing the buttons that force me to re-feel these things over and over again.

Bad memories sprout up like strings in my brain that are too tempting not to pull… and pull and pull and pull and pull until my thoughts are set on fire. I braid my strings together and lay them out in the form of writing and soon I can bare to look at them. The way they tie together feels poetic. I’m not ashamed of holding onto these memories. In fact I think the way my body consistently tells me this is going to hurt is its way of protecting me from all that is yet to come.

4 thoughts on “Pulling Strings”

  1. Your mind is an incredible thing Amy! The awful memories are easy to remember because they were times filled with adrenaline and fear. We have to try real hard to remember the wonderful times because they all blend together. The bad times, the terrible events, the moments that most of us wish we could forget are the ones that can dominate our space (just like negative self talk). The good ones are the ones we need to keep inviting in. They come with pleasant surprises. It isn’t about trying to go back for me as much as it is offering homage to the people, times, and events that shaped me into who I am today. My escape is classic rock. It is a trigger to me that re-opens a time in my youth that I truly enjoyed…even though I hated it. Your ability to study and absorb situations are astounding to me…from your infancy on you observed and studied how people reacted to situations (to the point of creating situations for your own entertainment). You are the most fascinating person in my life! Love you! >


  2. Amy, I cannot remember the incident in my basement in Ohio way back when! I guess that is because there have been so many tornado warnings in my life. Losing loved ones always hurts. To this day…the people I have lost (the ones I was closest to)… will instantly bring tears to my eyes when I think of them. The loss will always be there but the LOVE is so much greater. That is such a blessing. It’s what you take from each event… find something you’ve learned from that event or something you are now grateful for. The person you have become is a result of all of those events and loved ones. That is why you are so insightful, feel so deeply, and can write so beautifully. Hopefully the memories you are making now will help the sad ones fade away. Love you girl!


    1. Thanks so much aunt Kathy! It’s so funny how memories work. Something so insignificant managed to stick around for some reason. Thankfully I’ve got so many great memories too. I love you!


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