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Le Désespéré (The Desperate Man), Gustave Courbet, circa 1843
"Suspended between two great mysteries, I face into another day."

I become a truly desperate man when asked about my past. I feel reasonably certain that I've had one—or several—but I don't recall specifics. I can't remember faces and must painstakingly reconstruct places and times. I didn't keep records other than journals and the few dated pieces of writing I've retained, many of them stored in formats now unreadable. Pass me a common "intake form" and I draw a blank, for I truly do not know. With considerable prompting, I might create a believable fiction, plugging dates and events to produce what might appear to be a credible history, but this will not resolve the fundamental mystery for me and will prove largely fictional in practice, should any of the details become critical for diagnosis or treatment. My past seems every bit as fictional and speculative as my future.

The pandemic has spawned a booming business in obituaries, half-page histories of those who've died.
I read these reports with a skeptical eye, wondering who kept track of all those picky details, for I acknowledge that I failed to turn on the recorder before I started living and I have still not started recording yet. I seem to live if not forward, at least leaning in, shedding days as if sloughing off worn out skin. I'm on to the next thing, hardly hesitating to put my papers in order from the last thing, having utterly forgotten about the thing before that. I've experienced my share of traumas, but I'm not yet haunted by them. My pasts lie, my history's concocted truth.

Friends, family, and colleagues have long encouraged me to record my songs, but the technology for recording music still seems in its infancy, hardly advanced beyond the pocket reel to reel recorder I bought when I was in the sixth grade, except it's infinitely more complicated now. Each time I've tried to record—audio or video, it doesn't matter—I seem to need to relearn the procedures all over again. Tenaciously counter-intuitive, the interface continuously changes without improving, still relying upon icons which mean ever less over time. Setting a graphic equalizer amuses me for ten minutes before I relearn that I have no sense for what it's doing and discard the effort. I have no engineer to monitor the capture, and inevitably ruin the recording trying to remember how to stop the damned thing when I'm done. I come back an hour later to learn that I must have just let the recording run after I decided that I was done, leaving me an hour of random household noise appended to whatever I'd hoped to add to the treasury, so I delete the mess and proceed with living forward, leaning in.

The Muse will testify that I have boxes filled with finished work, papers unclassified, randomly packed and essentially inaccessible. My memory, such as it might be, seems similarly stored. I avoid taking pictures because I don't really understand what I'm supposed to do with them once they're taken. I do not spend idle mornings sorting through images from my past or understand how to label and store them for future reference. My hard drive seems largely filled with unclassified information, saved yet essentially inaccessible. I possess no past, just a vast quantity of noise my inheritors will one day wisely choose to lose and forget about, just as I have.

The Muse, GrandOtter, and I agreed to submit to some family therapy, innocently believing that this activity might help us better cope with TheGrandOtter's ongoing recovery from past traumas. I'm holding up the initiation because I'm confronted with a form asking me to catalogue my history, essentially a request to rewrite the great mystery tailing me. A desperate man surveys the form, certain that he has no history worth recording, and little memory of whatever must have come before. He probably didn't just appear here this morning, unrooted in any past. I sense that my parents once lived, but please do not ask for specifics like dates and places. I likewise sense that I once lived, but I have no draft obituary pending publication. I once was which is no more. I might one day become, but have not yet begun being what I might one day be. Suspended between two great mysteries, I face into another day. (And, no, I have not yet figured out how to fill out that damned form.)

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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