Memories of people are different from memories of places. Before I realized that, I felt guilty at being unable to recall a single interaction with a friend from fifty years ago. I could see his face, and almost hear his voice, but what did we do together over those three years? That was gone.
The place was the fraternity house during my college years. I remember the brick building clearly. The front porch, the cloak room, the portico, the parking lot with the gravel covering. The railroad ties that held back the sloping lawn from the patio behind the dining room. The freezer full of ice cream sandwiches at the bottom of the stairs. The room in the back corner where we played poker and hearts. I can feel the surface texture of the metal door to my room on the second floor. I can see the nude picture of a brother painted by my roommate and taped to the inside of our door. Pink and blue, I recall. I can remember cleaning the moldy tiles of the shower room as a pledge.
But the brothers wander like ghosts through those otherwise solid memories. And yet, that is the difference. They wander. They almost solidify, then evaporate again. Their voices would sound familiar if I could remember their words. But they were always changing. Living. Growing. Learning. Each encounter with them was slightly different from the last, despite the multitude of beer pong games, the frequent touch football afternoons on the back lawn, the regular formal dinners on Sundays after the football games. They did not remain solid and fixed for three years, the same physical reality constantly reinforcing itself inside our minds each time we touched. The brothers wander like ghosts.
Yes, of course I remember events. Probably distorted now, and out of sequence, but I remember them. And those events are populated with many strange characters. But have you ever tried to clearly see who sat next to you watching Star Trek? Or who your roommate’s date was on Homecoming? Or who drove you down to Selinsgrove for an after midnight hot dog? Only those who you brought along with you out of the past are solid. And they are no longer who they once were. Neither are you.
Memories of people are different from memories of places. It’s not your fault; you can’t do anything about it. But next time you go walking down the second floor hallway of the house in your bare feet, you may bump into brother X’s ghost. Say hello, and listen carefully to his response.