In third grade I did a report on James Madison. I remember drawing a picture of his face
with my new pencil, the one that had kittens on it, and wondering if his curls were natural or if
he used rollers to achieve that perfect circulure ringlet, each section looked like a slinky.
Springing up and down as he walked in his fancy boots. I admired his style from my bedroom
desk filled with kitten writing utensils and arrow straight hair. At the end of my report I closed
with “James Madison goes to alot of parties, but his favorite one was the Republican.” which
made sense, a man dressed in bell sleeves and buckle shoes, would most definitely be the life of
many parties, with his slinky snow white hair springing around as he talked.
I have no other real memory of third grade except this report and my grandma dying. Memories
find wormholes to hide in. Gravitational tunnels. Two entangled memories, pulled apart, form a
wormhole, a short cut through the universe of your history. Why would James Madison take up
precise space in my universe, when everything else that year is occupying multiple states at
once...a superposition. I store information with reckless recollection. Do you think all the
forgotten memories are still trapped somewhere, trending water in a coastal lagoon of brain
matter and spinal fluid? Maybe some will eventually stop swimming and sink, lost forever on a
planet that will never be discovered.
When my grandma died I remember not knowing what to say to my mother. I never knew what
to say to my mother. She was the island of Bora Bora, she spoke a different language and was
protected on all sides with a thick coral reef. I remember my grandma's funeral and how it
smelled like Frankincense. Burnt grains of blessed ash and smoke. The smoke swirled around my
mouth like breath in a snowstorm. I remember that. Snow storm smoke. My mother's eyes were
so blue they were almost white. She rubbed her tears away violently, I could see her white
through the storm.
Making sense of James Madison's beautiful party hosting hair, or smelling my grandma's last
party was the framework of memory itself. Encoding the senses of humiliation and sadness.
Embarrassing myself with not understanding politics or death. Both take up less space then they
should. I ignore them because they are unpleasant. Interesting enough they are the only third
grade memories I own. Storaged away like vintage luggage in someone's unfinished basement.
Only making an appearance when you really need to use them. Memory isn't a physical organ,
it's not a heart or spine. It's a process, involving many, that picks and chooses what's important.
Five senses that keep your past at arm's length. My hippocampus has a sense of humor. Why else
would James Madison still be swimming in my lagoon of grey matter.
Maggie DiBardino has a BA from Columbia Collage Chicago where she majored in art, entertainment, media, management. She published her first body of work last March called Bubble and the invisible ghosts: a journal. She has been featured in The Remington Review and is now working on her second book, a memoir.
how’s the weather up there? hope you’re doing well. maybe you’ve reunited with your old
friends and family.
it still blows my mind to think, as i step into grandma’s home, i won’t be able to say hi to you. i
won’t hear your complaints about using too much electricity, wasting too much water, or eating
too much ice cream. next time Sara and i try to sneak some desserts, we won’t be stopped by
you. i won’t see you smiling as you come home with your victories from playing mah jong and
ask you how much you won. i won’t taste the delectable yu you were so excited to make
whenever i visited—and i rarely visited.
oh, i wish i could relive those moments again. if i knew you would leave sooner i would have
cherished those moments more.
it was my fault—i’m sorry i never called. i’ve been so busy thinking about the future, about
applying for colleges and jobs and even starting businesses. but after you left, i realized that it’s
important to cherish what you have in the present. i have occupied my mind with so many
hypothetical thoughts and aspirations that i’ve neglected the very things i own right now. the
future is so uncertain! and now, i know to treasure those dear to my heart before they leave me
(or i leave them).
mama liked to tell me stories of my childhood and how you and grandma took care of me. these
moments did not exist in my memory, but with mama’s recollection, they became mine too.
mama has told me that you bought two ducklings for me when i was younger. the ducklings were
young and fragile, like me. as a child, i did not understand why they stopped moving after i
placed them in the cold water. i was confused on why they would not respond to me; why they
laid there, still.
looking back, i finally understand the message you meant to send. like the ducklings, all lives are
fragile; you can easily lose someone that you have not valued enough.
grandma has told me your stories too, and how you worked so hard to support your family—how
your sickness was derived from the long days of toil at work, and how you continued your job
i like to tell myself maybe it was for the better. you were sick and i was ignorant of the
magnitude. perhaps the pain was too much for you to take, and now your pain is away.
as i selfishly write this, i know that it will and has been especially hard for mama. i can't imagine
how terrible it must feel to lose your own father. i know i will support her along the way.
i hope you’re doing okay.
Cindy Zhao turns to writing whenever she is overcome with emotions. She likes to make art of any form (painting, design, film, writing) in her free time. She is hoping to to convey new meanings to those who view her work to help them find inspiration & growth.