The Memory Bank
There’s nothing suspenseful about this story. I’m telling you right
up front that he died when he was ten. I’ve learned some things
since giving birth to Spenser, a child with a developmental disability.
Quite a few, actually.
Voices. Words. Sometimes in the pauses of long distance telephone
conversations, words of other speakers, distant and disembodied,
seep through. Words not intended for me. Words bridging
time zones, geographic regions, territories of the heart. Likewise in
subways, department stores or theatres as the lights dim, more words.
We are always blanketed by the soft, reassuring drone of words, too
muffled to be understood, that tell us we are not alone. It is the chorus,
the low constant buzzing, that connects us.
I bring to mind Spenser’s words, the sound of his voice, but can
only hear a few conversations distinctly. The soprano of his voice
is becoming garbled, far off. He did make cooing sounds as a baby.
Sometimes he yelled “No” when forced to do his spelling words. His
constant congestion caused his vocal tone to be nasal and mangled
his words. In his usual school outfit of a turtle-neck pullover and blue
jeans, he would make emphatic declarations, but I don’t remember
what they were, because I was too busy, grabbing for the phone or the
I sift through my memory bank for visual images of Spenser,
framed with longing, as I slide my thumb over his photograph, my
face reflected in the glass. My baby. My boy. His blonde hair is as fine
as corn silk. His almond eyes are set slightly apart, on either side of
the flat bridge of his tiny nose, diagnostic characteristics of Sotos syndrome,
Spenser, where have you gone? He doesn’t answer, but his smiling
expression in his portrait on the desk never changes, whether the
glass reflects the east light of dawn or the long afternoon rays of the
sun, which extend and then recede like the tide through the seasons. I
pretend that the elementary school photo was taken only months ago,
that I can hear him playing downstairs, that he never died.
But he is suspended in mid-sentence, says nothing. I study the details
of his face, his eyebrows darker than I remembered, a small crater
of dimple that indents his cheek, which he inherited from me.
In a newsletter, a bereaved mother suggested cataloguing memories
on notecards, four by six inches, which she stored neatly in a
compact box. I don’t want to write on notecards because my recipe
boxes are a disaster, overflowing with partially alphabetized clippings.
This manuscript is my memory box. In it I reconstruct Spenser from
the memories of family, teachers and friends. I record his whispers,
carried by the wind. I might glimpse him, darting past the twining
clematis in a brightly-colored cap on a summer afternoon. He can’t
have gone that far.