Ronnie reflects on the places where memories accumulate, as the news comes in about Rachel dying
“All of us who have spent much time in hospital waiting rooms, corridors, wards and consulting rooms, and that probably includes most of the readers of this blog, will be aware of the particular form of ‘waiting’ these places specialise in. Hours of boredom, when you realise what the true meaning of being a ‘patient’ is, sometimes interrupted suddenly and violently with life changing, life threatening news. Those moments when a previously dull, colourless place suddenly goes ‘real’, and the quiet hum of a ‘normal’ cancer clinic turns into shock, thudding heartbeats and, sometimes, the sound of crying. The sound of somebody creating a memory pool.
This is not my phrase. I found it in a book I’m reading at the moment: ‘A Widow’s Story’ by Joyce Carol Oates, a memoir about the death of her husband Ray. This is how she explains memory pools:
‘Forever after you will recognise these places – previously invisible, indiscernible – where memory pools accumulate.
All waiting areas of hospitals – hospital rooms – and in particular those areas of the hospital reserved for the very ill: Telemetry, Intensive Care. You will not wish to return to these places where memory pools lie underfoot treacherous as acid. In the corners of such places, in the shadows. In stairwells. In elevators. In corridors and in restrooms, you have memorised without your knowing. In the hospital gift shop, at the newsstand. Where you linger staring at news headlines already passing into oblivion as you peruse them while upstairs in your sick husband’s hospital room an attendant is changing bedclothes, or sponge bathing the patient behind a gauze screen, unless the patient has been taken to Radiology for further X rays shivering and awaiting his turn in another corridor, on another floor.
Memory pools accumulate beneath chairs in waiting areas adjacent to Telemetry. It may be that actual tears have stained the tile floors or soaked into the carpets of such places. It may be that these tears can never be removed. And everywhere the odor of melancholy, that is the very odor of memory.
Nowhere in a hospital can you walk without blundering into the memory pools of strangers – their dread of what was imminent in their lives, their false hopes, the wild elation of their hopes, their sudden terrible and irrefutable knowledge; you would not wish to hear echoes of their whispered exchanges -
But he was looking so well yesterday, what has happened to him overnight -
You would not wish to blunder into another’s sorrow. You will have all that you can do to resist your own.’
As soon as I read this I started to identify the places where my own memory pools lie. The far end of the waiting room in the Linda McCartney rapid diagnosis clinic, where I can’t see the chattering daytime television, but can eventually see the whole room, empty but for me, still waiting. Then the ‘quiet room’ where I’m finally brought in to hold my Sarah when they tell her she has breast cancer, a room, I see now, that is awash with memory pools, that is only for memory pools. There is a memory pool next to our special place where we light candles in the cathedral. There is another one at the top end of the lake, from where I went to tell the park about Sarah. These are merely the first to occur to me. I know I will find more.
And typing that, I realise there’s one here, underneath the desk in our studio where I’m writing this. And it’s because of Facebook. Over the last few days me, Sarah and many of you who will read this have been getting regular and worrying updates about the health of a beloved friend. So an innocent computer has become a kind of hospital waiting room.
And writing this, suddenly, a Twitter message flashes up and tells me our beloved friend Rachel has died. I can write no more for crying.
Where are your memory pools?”
Well that was yesterday. Writing this as the news about Rachel came in from Gayle. Thank you all for your love and sympathy. We have lost a sister and Anthony has lost his beloved. These are hard days.