“Why don’t we remember everything?”
I am driving up Clarendon, past the park that’s on the side of a cliff, the one with the steep wooden staircase. Clarendon Street in San Francisco is what my father used to call, “a good street to know.” It takes you to the Haight without driving down Lincoln, and can also get you to Market Street by avoiding Portola. Before GPS, Clarendon felt like a secret. I often drive this route, and whenever I pass the park, I think about how I’ve never climbed those stairs, and wonder what it’s like at the top. Sometimes I consider pulling over but never do.
My daughter repeats her question. “Why don’t we remember everything?”
“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I think our brains deci—”
“I mean, why don’t our brains just store everything and then we can just look something up when we want to?” She rests her foot on the dashboard. “It wouldn’t feel like we’d have all this packed information in our brains, but,” she pauses, “it would be there if we needed it.”
“Some people have photographic memories and can remember what they had for breakfast three years ago.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
We drive in silence for a little while, and pass the street where our friends used to live before they moved to Marin to escape the fog. Today it is foggy and cold. We have just come from volunteering at Muttville, the dog rescue organization with the endless stream of stray Chihuahuas and free donuts. In the past six months, since moving back from Perth to San Francisco, we have, surprisingly, become a dog family, fostering and volunteering. I keep wanting to write about how fostering dogs is our therapy, but the fact that taking care of others helps you take care of yourself is not rocket science, so there’s not much else to say about that.
“I don’t remember much before fourth or fifth grade,” I tell my daughter, who is now staring out the window.
“Don’t you have a memory from kindergarten about how you got in trouble when you switched the inks in the markers?”
“Oh yea, that’s right.”
We are now six blocks from home, in traffic. The traffic is also something I will never write about because the only thing more boring than talking about traffic is writing about it. But I remember when San Francisco was less crowded, less expensive, with much fewer headphones. And coming home after nearly four years abroad is like moving in with an ex-boyfriend. You know why you fell in love with him, but you’re not sure you want to see him every day.
“I guess we don’t remember everything because we don’t need to,” I say, squinting and lowering the visor. The sun is setting. “But we might. Someday. That’s my point.” She picks up some dog hair from her black leggings.
Tomorrow I will drive up Clarendon after work and, for the first time, stop at the park. I will climb the uneven staircase, in heels, to finally see what’s up there. At the top of the hill, a dirt path will lead me to a bright green bench overlooking the city. The bench is in memory of someone named Lily
Allen-Hughes, and I will sit down, close my eyes, and listen to the traffic. I
will make a new memory that I will share with my daughter, who will safely store it for me, in her wonderful mind.