The Act of Remembering
‘Time Remembered is Grief Forgotten’
– Algernon Charles Swinburne
I have faint memories of the 1980s. I remember my clumsy attempts at roller skating and can vaguely recall seeing Ronald Reagan on television; perhaps the latter is an invented memory. The 1980s marked the beginning of uncertainty. I wasn’t part of the fear, loss, and tragedy that occurred; in fact I remained largely unaware of its cause. There was a silence around death, no one wanted to say how they died and some doctors chose to list underlining symptoms rather than the actual cause of death. I spent six months writing an elegy to the 1980s, the years that I was blissfully unaware and too young to understand. There were protests. People were fighting for their lives. I want to remember the protests but I can’t; those faces are ghosts now. Victims to a disease that the government refused to acknowledge. All of the documentaries never prepared me for the profound loss that began in the early 1980s, for the first time I couldn’t fill the blank pages with words, traces of death lingered in my notebook, and then there were my fragmented memories…memories that defined my story. There was only one question to answer.
I want to imagine the 1980s as a beautiful generation, but there were parents who subtly enquired after the sexual orientation of male ballet teachers. Innocent questions like ‘are you married’ held a new meaning. There was an underlying hostility; ‘no’ came with assumptions.
Recordatus tempus. Time Remembered. Only it’s impossible to remember time never experienced, so with fragmented memories I invented a story that answers my ‘what if’ question. The act of remembering can be deceptive. Time allows us to forget what we don’t want to remember, those memories are easier to let go of because we never wanted them in the first place. The 1980s was consumed in silence and I never heard the pleas for help. I never saw the faces of the dying. I never heard the word AIDS or maybe I had and forgot. There were memories of seeing a frail Ryan White on television, but those weren’t my memories. I never heard his voice or watched his televised meeting with Michael Jackson; no, I watched a program covering the 20th anniversary of White’s death. Perhaps I wanted to remember the boy who changed the face of AIDS. The mind can be peculiar, attaching itself to memories that didn’t belong and discarding the ones that fit. By the early 1990s there were AIDS Public Service Announcements on television and it became impossible to ignore the disease that encroached upon society. In the span of a decade over 120,000 people lost their lives to the disease. People were disappearing and I was blissfully unaware until Rudolph Nureyev died.
Oblitus tempus. Time forgotten. I didn’t know how to write the 1980s without looking at the AIDS epidemic, not writing this story meant giving into the culture of silence that clouded the 1980s. Entire families disappeared and time forgot them; I could not.