We were still sleeping together, in the same bed. It had only been a few days since she - dressed in black, bra, panties, garters, stockings - had broken down and we had to talk. Not had a talk, but had to - the kind that makes you afraid of everything they say, makes you tense up, every word choked out. At the end, we were left holding each other, half-naked, with nowhere else to go but the edges of the bed.

That few days later I came home, late from somewhere where I wasn't at home, deliberately. My Dirty Three album was playing, loudly, even for daytime, but it was one in the am and the room was dark with kleenex littering the floor. Anna sobbing on the bed. My bed. Our bed; we were still sleeping together, in the same bed, left with no other options, neither of us willing for some reason to offer to sleep on the couch or floor.

I would write more - fill in small realistic-sounding details that make this account seem more plausible - but I can't, and won't. Won't fictionalize, because I am telling myself my own history, here, and I want it straight. Can't, because I have no more words. I have a worrying tendency to remember impressions of my past experiences, and randomly so - so that I have only some internal representation, tangible to me, that I don't know how to translate into words; and scattered throughout my life, both in places I don't care that much about remembering, and missing in places that I feel guilty about not remembering better.

For instance, I remember the first time we hugged far, far better than the first time we kissed.

The hug: standing, in the back hallway of her parents' house, afraid to go in further lest we be bothered by her family, but lingering in that way that people attracted to one another become when they find it increasingly difficult to part. We must have felt an impulse to do something to demonstrate how we felt, but kissing, I was told, was no good; she had had a bad experience once. When I think about it I still get a sensation of the comfort my body felt, the warmth, and the texture of the ribbing of her green shirt. I swear I skipped a little once she closed the door and I walked to my car. For about ten minutes, before they played something I really hated, every song on the radio was the best I'd ever heard.

The kiss: sitting in my car, pulled off onto a dirt road because, probably, I was driving her home from school and we had nowhere else to steal a moment. I don't recall our impetus - for some time afterward I was still concerned about having been too insistent, but she insists nothing of the sort is true, that I worried too much - but we took it upon ourselves to "really" kiss. I lied, it wasn't our first kiss. I just didn't want to admit that I have no recollection of my first kiss, which was a prim, tight-lipped affair that left no impression on me whatsoever; I only remember that much much as I would remember that I burned my hand on the stove as a child - because someone told me so, the weakest sort of memory I have.

Recall her bad experience; she had gone on one date with an older boy, she told me, and he had tactlessly forced on her - no physical force, but it was undesired - a disgusting, wet-mouthed kiss. So she was afraid; this activity disturbed her deep inside. But she said she was determined, so we worked practically: she grasped my hand, and we played a game, her tightening and loosening her grip on my hand. No, it didn't hurt, I said. So we kissed, slowly, and the more uncomfortable she felt, the more tightly she gripped my hand, and the less we kissed, progressing in little steps.

Perhaps the account of our kiss now seems much more detailed than that of our hug; it is, in many ways. But I remember much of the kiss as I would remember a story. The strongest point of my memory there is the feel of her hand as it gripped mine, not our lips, or what I was thinking, or anything else. And for all I know, I could've gotten that hand from anywhere; we liked to hold hands a lot. My memory of the hug, on the other hand, feels quite specific, and I can always pick it out in my mind as that particular one.

I've picked out these two memories from many more simply because of the cultural import they might have. But as memories go, the first feels real and palpable while the second feels roughly like her address (number and house only, the zip code, I always forgot). This, then, is what I mean about my memories being random impressions. It's true that I have lots of other memories, but the ones that are special to me are peculiar. I value that peculiarity because it means for me that these memories are like anchors, or nodes in a great web; from them I can move to fill in more hazy details; they give my memories body and substance. I also am dismayed at that peculiarity, because it makes my memories feel haphazard, as if my brain had no regard for what in my life was important, or not. Perhaps that's what really bothers me - maybe it does know what was important.

Josh Kortbein
November 30, 2000