When I went back to Taiwan in January for my mom’s funeral, we had to make a day trip to the county my parents grew up in. As we drove through a string of small towns separated by countryside, I noticed how familiar everything looked. I realized that I must have ridden through this area countless times during those 3.5 years when my mom and I were still in Taiwan. We lived with my mom’s parents in Er-Shui, but spent most weekends with my dad’s parents’ in the town of Wan-Xing, about a 45-minute bus ride away …
I remember those bus rides. I remember always wanting to sit at the very front of the bus, so I could catch all the scenery. I even remember one time being the first to hop on the bus (this was pretty much every time we rode that bus) and successfully snagging the front row (this was not every time we rode that bus), only to have a strange woman sit down next to me before my mom was able to join.
Not worried, my mom simply took an empty seat a few rows back.
Well, she may not have been worried, but I was. I remember staring up at the strange woman who had the audacity to sit next to me, taking pause for a minute, wondering what to do. And then I decided to give up my coveted front-row seat to go sit with my mom. As much as I loved that front row, my priorities were clear …
As we drove over these very same roads 40+ years later, splotchy memories like this one darted through my mind. I wanted to pull them to the forefront of my brain, to bring them to focus, to be able to see them with clarity again. But I made these memories when I was only three to five years old.
That’s when I realized the images in my mind would never be anything more again than splotchy vignettes, continuing to fade with each passing year. Because the only person who shared these memories with me — the only person who would have been able to help me see these memories with any clarity again — is gone.
All of a sudden, it felt as though entire swathes of my childhood had been permanently lost. I was certainly too young to remember with much vividness those 3.5 years with my mom, and my mom is no longer around to share those memories with me. Those memories are just … gone. Forever.
I think this is why, over the past eight months since my mom died, I’ve been finding myself clinging on to any old photos I can find of her. I’ve become terrified of losing the memories of my own childhood experiences. Because if I can’t recall them, if I have no one to remind me of them, if I don’t have any photos to rekindle them … did they even really happen?
This album is more for me than anyone else. It certainly isn’t for my mom, as she never liked being the center of attention. And it certainly isn’t for anyone out there on the internet, as these photos will undoubtedly mean nothing to you (though it would mean something to me if you actually looked at it).
Yet, for me, something about the idea of putting these photos out there, in public view, on an internet notorious for things being impossible to delete off of …
It’s like a form of security.