Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sensory Memory

Whenever I go away for a few days, my dogs go to "doggy camp". Last weekend, I got home Sunday night but, because Monday was a holiday, I couldn't pick up Nat and Pyxi until Tuesday. The emptiness in the house expanded with their absence but my senses didn't get the message that they weren't here.

Each time I pushed back my chair, I waited to hear them jump up to see what I was about to do. A couple of dozen times, in pure reflex, I reached to pet them and my fingers expected to feel soft fur. I opened the front door and automatically gave the "wait" hand signal.

I do these things so many times each day that they're ingrained. The sounds, the touches, the instinctive actions are imprinted on my eyes, ears, nose, and skin. They're so palpable that, even when the dogs aren't here, I still feel, hear, and smell them to some degree. No, not as vividly as if Nat and Pyxi were really by my side, but sensory memory is strong.

I notice it more with the dogs these days than with anyone else because the three of us are my "now". Still, even 25 years after my father's death, if I hold very still and close my eyes, I remember exactly how it felt when he hugged me. Everybody's hug is unique depending on their height or body structure in relation to mine, the amount of pressure, the duration. Dad's hug was unlike any other.

Mom had a way of brushing my hair back from my face. When I was a little girl and upset about something, we'd talk and she would repeat the motion, with her fingers threading through my hair, soft against my skin. It always soothed and calmed me down. Even when I was an adult, she'd do it sometimes when she knew that something was weighing on my mind. That's another sensory memory I carry with me, years after her passing.

I'm working on a story in which a woman leaves her husband after many years of marriage. She's finally had enough of his cheating and the complete lack of respect he shows her. There's more to it. Leaving is really an act of survival and a step toward healing for her. Still, I think that it would be very, very hard for her to leave behind the sensory memories even though she has physically removed herself from his presence.

I can picture her lying in bed alone but remembering how his side of the mattress dipped when he joined her and how his arm wrapped around her and held her close. I wonder how much more lonely she'll feel without these things in her life. How will she cope. Perhaps to fight their power, she'll need to make herself remember the touches that actually annoyed her but that she never shared... like the way that his fingers curled into her waist when he placed his hand at the small of her back. The motion always communicated possession instead of intimacy.

More to ponder.


Kara said...

Mary Stella, you brought sparkly tears of feeling to my eyes when I read this today.

I would totally read your story. The sensory memories bothering her really strikes me as interesting.

Blue Betty said...

Yep, sensory memory can be strong when it's "bad touch" too, like the possession touch you mentioned. It can leave lasting wounds, even for the next guy, who maybe touches her that way with love, but she can't feel it because she still remembers the possession. Messed-upedness.