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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Memory (07/10/08)

TITLE: Two Boats, an Alligator, and a Set of Pens
By Dusti (Bramlage) Zarse


By Chrissy Jordan

“Write an essay about your grandfather.”

I would like to, but I don’t remember my grandfather.

Not even his funeral.

Mom says I’ve blocked it out. “Adverse trauma on a young child.” For months I blamed myself for his death. I guess I’ll have to take her word for it.

Maybe if I’d loved him more.

How could I have loved him if I can’t even remember him? Nine years is long enough to form a memory, isn’t it? But where did they go?


I tried to tell my teacher when he gave the assignment—write an essay about your grandfather—but he didn’t want to hear it. “Excuses, excuses,” he said. If only he could see inside my head. Then he’d know how black it was. Dark. Empty.

“Well, Chrissy, what do you think of when you hear the word grandfather? What comes to mind?”

“I don’t know,” I answer. “Nothing.”

“Stop being stubborn,” he says.

But I’m not trying to be stubborn. I wish he could see. What do I think of when I hear the word grandfather? What comes to mind?

A void. An ache. It hurts. How do I explain that?

I can’t.

But why does it hurt? Because nothing’s there? There should be an image, shouldn’t there? A man? Maybe with white hair. Maybe gray. I wish I could see him. All I see is a shadow.

And boats.

I see two boats, both on top of the TV. One was made of iron. Heavy. I tried to move it once. Dad snapped at me. The other was in a bottle. No, wait. Was it in a bottle? I can’t—oh, yes! It was! It was in a bottle because I remember thinking it was magic. How had Grandpa gotten it in there? Maybe it was one of his tricks. Grandpa was always doing tricks. He traveled with the circus. At least that’s what they tell me. I wish I could say I remember his stories, but I don’t.


I don’t remember him.

I remember things.

Like the elevator. His apartment had an elevator, the first I’d ever been in, and my brother and I used to fight over who got to push the buttons. “The alligator,” Jeff called it. “Let’s ride the alligator, Mom!” I thought that was magic too. Zip, the doors shut. Swish, the doors open, and instead of seeing the dingy road through smudged glass doors, there was grandfather’s apartment, grandfather waiting in the doorway with open arms…

…Or, at least, I like to think of him that way. I don’t really know. Like I said, I don’t remember him. Only things. Objects.

Meaningless really. Cruel. Why would God hide my grandfather from me in that way? I wish I could find even one memory. Did he limp when he moved? How did he dress? Was his voice gravelly, or was it smooth? He used to balance me on his hands, my little shoes standing on his flat palm several feet from the ground. Or so the pictures show. How could I not remember that? His little circus performer. That’s what I imagine him calling me.

Boats…and a wooden desk. I remember a wooden desk. At least I think so. The fact that very same desk now sits in my room makes me question whether or not this is actually a memory. Do I remember it? Or have I transplanted what I know into my memories? Does it matter?

Pens. They were strange. Not like regular pens. There were two of them, each in their own stand. And there was an ink well. Old fashioned. Did my grandfather actually use them? I think I tried to once. I was sitting on his chair. My feet were swinging. Thump. Thump. Thump. They hit the legs of the table. Thump. Thump. I eyed those pens, wondering how they worked. Did I use them? “Don’t touch,” Dad had said. Did I listen? I don’t remember. Why is that?

I miss him. Is that possible—missing someone I don’t remember? It must be, because I miss him.

Please, God. Maybe someday I can have one memory that’s mine? One memory that’s really a memory and not a story someone else has told?

Funny thing, memory. What’s real? I can’t tell. I guess this wasn’t much of an essay, but it’s the best I can do. Sorry. I guess I fail, huh?

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Member Comments
Member Date
Sunny Loomis 07/21/08
Bits and pieces of memory have to make up the person we don't remember. It doesn't have to be someone else's concept of a memory. Good job.