Just the right combination of mustard and catsup and pickle will trigger the memory, and mostly it’s the pickle but it’s not just the pickle. It has to be the precise combination. The pickle has to be slightly cooked but not fired. There has to be everything there or it will not come and it never comes without that combination, never comes on its own accord, and I never have the memory any other way.
I was four, maybe five at the most, and there was a restaurant that served hamburgers, and it didn’t really matter what a restaurant served back then because if you were a kid that was what you were getting. But this was a local place, just outside of town, and because it was the mid 1960’s the parking lot wasn’t paved, and there wasn’t an overabundance of lights. It’s more of a memory fragment than a memory really, just a faded parchment found in the bottom of a stack of faded documents, a few scribbled lines, not indicative of anything to come, no revelations here, nothing of significance, just the taste of pickle, and the memory of smooth tile on the walls on the outside, and of a sky full of stars in the night not overwhelmed by artificial light.
I came back to this place, when I was seventeen, maybe eighteen, and all that was there was a pile of rubble, and not much of that. It was close to the road and I needed a place to hide twelve ounces of pot that I was splitting with someone. I stood in the rain, in the dark, and wonder how I went from looking at the stars from this parking lot to hiding drugs there. A dozen years or so had passed and it seemed odd to have memories that old. I never got caught with the pot, sold it for a good profit, but that was the last time I ever stood in that parking lot, ever.
The highway got bigger, was four laned, the side road near the old restaurant was widened, and now there is no evidence it ever existed at all. I still remember the stars, I’m sure of that memory, and the burger, yes, that was there, but there’s a thousand different things that my mind keeps trying to add or subtract, to gain clarity, and like all memories, all it causes is confusion. There seems to be something in there about toy rings, or trinkets of some sort, and I seem to have remembered that when I was stashing the dope but, again, we’re talking about the memories of a four year old, maybe a five year old, and the memories of a young man who was never sober from the time he entered high school until long after he walked across a stage trying desperately not to fall.
Sometimes I see little kids and I wonder what they’re remembering about that very moment, or if they will at all? I see a homeless man and I wonder if there’s a memory back at some time in his life he was so happy there was no limit to sky and stars and burgers with his family. Then there comes time, disappointment, fear, failure, and that incredibly large sensation that you’ve reached your peak of happiness, before you’re ten years old, and from that point forward in life, things are going to get worse, and the feelings that you were never good enough anyway can only be drowned in alcohol or sent up in smoke.
Now the memory of the taste might well be fifty years old. It reoccurred today and I tried sifting through what I remembered and what might have been a memory, and the attempts of my mind to make it real. I wonder, sometimes, when I see kids with their parents and the kids seem to be having the best time ever, and it’s no big deal, but there they are, and I wonder what it would take for me to feel that happy again, and at what point I stopped trying, or if by trying, for so very long, so many different ways, if I totally missed the point.