When Melissa and I first met we spent a lot of time sharing movies, music, and books with each other. I suppose all couples do this. You are trying to establish your personality, and so you share the art that you think best represents you. Melly was unlike anyone I had ever met before or since. Her shorthand involved Thoreau and Nina Simone, as well as some truly weird films. Among these was a German art-house (art-haus?) film called "Faraway, So Close".
People in the US know it because they made a version starring Nic Cage, Meg Ryan, and Dennis Franz's naked butt, called City of Angels. As with all things, it's better in the original translation. Hollywood took all the quirk out of it. The German version has recurring appearances by Lou Reed, Peter Falk, and Gorbachev. The US version has... well... Dennis Franz?
The premise involves an angel in East Berlin after the wall comes down. His job is to act as a guardian for the citizens, and to occasionally shepherd the dying to the other side. In the course of doing his job he falls in love with mankind and decides he must give up his wings to experience life as a human. It is a very philosophical film, full of life. Much of this is lost in our American version. "Faraway, So Close" popped in to my head yesterday morning and it took me a while to realize why. It was because we watched it together for the first time the night of September 10th, 2001.
Everyone has a September 11th story, the way earlier generations have stories about JFK and Pearl Harbor. My Dad still remembers being a five-year-old kid in 1941, sitting on their back steps in Milwaukee, and hearing the news that started WWII. Those moments stay with you, but no one remembers what happened in the days and hours before life changed. I could tell you exactly how I heard about September 11th: I was leaving Melly's house, turning left off Beck onto Broadway in Tempe. I was listening to 'Desolation Row' by Bob Dylan off of his Royal Albert Hall bootleg, when I switched over to NPR. That story is fascinating to me, the way that a person's Fantasy Football team is fascinating to them and nobody else. It's incredibly personal, but also incredibly common. The more interesting stories are the ones filled with subtlety and nuance; the stories that you don't think about everyday.
Memories are full of subjective detail, easily influenced by outside factors. I have heard that the more often you go back to a memory the less accurate it becomes. The more you think on them the more they get mixed with other memories. That memory from 2001 may take on details of the time you told it in 2007. In that way, the memories you never think about are the most accurate. If you remember it for the first time in 15 years it is like it just happened. All of the details may not come back right away, but the details that are there will be the most true. This has to be one of the cruelest tricks our minds play on us, the act of remembering causes us to forget.
The countless 9/11 remembrances this week knocked my 9/10 memory loose. Melissa lived in a little 1950s starter home in Tempe when we first met. It was at the end of a dead-end street and painted pink. She would always call it "Desert Rose". I later moved in to that house with her and we lived there together until early 2012. She loved that house, and everything in it. It was her most successful foray in to adulthood, complete with an old VCR and a beat up TV that she bought at an estate auction. When we first started dating our standard evening consisted of getting dinner out, renting a movie and watching it on that dinky TV until the late hours. I stayed over that particular night, happy with my life and the state of the world. The next day the world changed, became somehow smaller.
We don't get to pick the moments that define us. The world doesn't give a damn about our plans. That day in 2001 brought Melissa and I closer. The tragedy still felt personal, even though it happened in a place I had never been to, to people I never met. That didn't seem to matter, what did matter was how it so starkly illustrated how quickly things can change. Like the angel in the movie, the realities of this human life may not be as great as they seem.
I had someone unfamiliar with our recent losses ask what I would have thought about my life today if someone had described it to me 10 years ago. The obvious answer is obvious. Priorities are different now, details more important. Time has slowed down. The world has somehow become larger, more foreboding.
And so I reach for familiar memories and find myself surprised with unfamiliar details. Sometimes they are big, like "Faraway, So Close", and sometimes they are small. They are always welcome, even if it causes the memories to fade. As I said to a friend earlier this week, unexpected memories are the best memories.