Don’t you remember?
I remember how four of us drove from Brussels to Pamplona. 7-7-7. July 7, 7:00 am. Running of the bulls. I had been reading Earnest Hemingway, caught up in the machismo and bravado. We had white shirts, red neckerchiefs, I think red berets. The Spanish men wore white pants and white shirts to complement their red neckerchiefs and berets.
You couldn’t run, Valerie. Only men could demonstrate their idiocy on 7-7-7. You took black and white photographs. Your daughter brought them to me, after you died, many years later. We had wine skins, filled with cheap red Spanish wine, and started sipping from our skins upon awakening, so that by 7:00 am we feared nothing. I don’t remember where you were with your camera.
We drove south from Brussels in a Citroen Deux Chevaux, four of us and our camping gear, top speed fifty kilometers per hour. How did we get over the Pyrenees? Al, an endlessly high hairdresser from Long Island, owned the car and was our driver. Fifty kilometers per hour must have felt like speeding. Paul was from New Jersey, writing a travel book for people like us. Valerie, my girlfriend, from a small town in Alberta. And me.
But I don’t remember doing that with you, Paul said. I remember we played music, would meet up here and there, drink ouzo and retsina till our eyeballs fell out. That’s in the book.
Is this a case of did the tree really fall in the forest if no one is there to see or hear it? Valerie is gone. Al vanished in a haze of hashish eons ago. So it’s just you and I, Paul. And you don’t remember Pamplona. I’m not even sure I have the black and white photographs. Or if I do, heat and cold and time may have turned the images to a foggy blur.
If shared memories cease being shared, does my memory of you Paul, with your curly hair and blue eyes, playing the flute while I strummed Summertime, enticing the young woman to come closer to the music, remain. You put that in your book. Why didn’t you put in Pamplona, running for our lives down narrow streets, six young bulls not far behind. I pinned myself against a wall, praying I wouldn’t be gored, praying they would run by. Why didn’t you put that in your book?
You wrote of hitchhiking and hostels, ancient places, long bus rides. Of street food and maps and friends. But not of Pamplona.
It happened. I know it happened. No getting off the narrow streets, run to the stadium, more bulls to be let loose.The spectators would push you back into the bull ring if you tried to leap into the stands to avoid the rampaging bulls.
I tell my stories, but there are fewer left to tell their stories that I am part of. I choose to remember stories that I have let define me, as I want to be known. I imagine we all do the same.
I am disappearing. Slowly. In bits and pieces. My clothes are now baggy as I grow thinner. I look at photographs I am in and wonder who the old guy is. I have stories that speak to persistence and strength and fortitude. That are so much about physical capabilities joined with mental toughness. I will get up, again and again, if I am knocked down. I have been knocked down, many times.
You Paul, not remembering our youth, our oh so young manhood, in that moment of daring and folly, somehow more of me disappears. Fewer to listen, fewer to tell, their stories.
I remember the narrow streets, keep running, they are coming and will catch up, keep running. No getting off the kilometer or so route to the small stadium, packed with spectators. Once in the stadium, the young Spanish men would kneel down in front of the bull, taunting the bull. What am I doing here? You, Valerie, are in the stands taking pictures.
Your daughter brought me the pictures. She told me of your passing. She reminded me of you. We didn’t have much to say. She knew of me – that was something, I suppose.
Was I that brave young man, with dark hair and a black beard? Who stepped into the unknown? Is that still part of who I am now? Or has that disappeared, along with hair and muscles, and loved ones?
You not remembering, not writing about, Pamplona starts to make me wonder if I dreamt it. If maybe I never left the comfort of my room and created a fiction that became me. Fewer and fewer to listen, or tell their stories.
What if other friends don’t remember our motorcycle trips to Utah, or my wife doesn’t remember bicycling to San Francisco. Or my childhood friend doesn’t remember standing by the sea wall during a hurricane, waves breaking on us.
It is up to me to spread my arms, to reach and reach, be it with a different vitality, so the world is still an invitation. Those friends we walk with now at low tide tell their stories – of dogs and play and vistas, of city and solitude – that I am still part of.
My wife and I were guests of fellow bicyclists on our way to California. We were put up in a room that had a giant map of their family bike trip, some dozen years before. They proudly pointed out highlights, as if it had just happened. My wife and I really liked these generous and welcoming folks, but wondered why they hadn’t moved on. Had little else happened in twelve years to tell stories about? I still don’t know the answer.
There are videos of Buddhist monks spending many hours making strikingly beautiful mandalas out of sand, then immediately upon completion taking brooms and sweeping them away. What was real for me never happened for you. I am disappearing but still I hold on, not ready to sweep the memories away.