Physical Memory

I have a physical memory when it comes to rejection. Reading a writer friend’s post on her own recent rejection sent my memory soaring back to the lobby of the Loew’s Village VII movie theater, the one with the narrow staircases between floors, and of standing in a distinct spot near the water fountain on one of the upper floors, a dark, stilled popcorn machine at my back. It was my birthday; I had just seen the so-called gay cowboy movie; I had just been rejected by an agent I had been hoping on unhealthily for months. I don’t recall who the agent was now, to be honest. I am sitting here writing this post and I cannot for the life of me recall the name of the movie. I don’t know what the agent’s letter said, if it was a letter or an email, if it was nice or bland, if I agreed or didn’t agree with her critique. But I do remember the silver water fountain, its grimy nozzle and dirty basin, the hush of sound from the floors below, the buttery smell in the air, the warm sense of E’s arms around me as I tried not to cry, the warmer sense of how tightly he held me when I did cry. I remember the scarf around my neck. I remember my shoes.

I have other memories like this. My most memorable rejections are frozen in time in certain rooms all across the city. Even on street corners; I have one of those.

The first of these was back when I was still a grad student. I was in a garish cubicle with low metal walls when I was rejected by an agent for the very first time. It came via email. It started off so nice it set my heart soaring (my heart is such a big baby) and then—splat—it fell when I got to the end. I remember the glare of my computer screen. I remember the keyboard sounds across the cubicle divider. I remember the girl chattering on the phone on the other side about what flowers she wanted at her wedding. I remember the wheeled chair I sat in, how it creaked whenever I moved, the uncomfortable shape of the hard round mouse in my hand. I read that email and I did what any immature writer would do before she realized that this—rejection—would be the reoccurring theme of her life, sort of like the sing-along chorus. I made a huge deal of it. I told my boss I was sick, and I left the office early. I remember the fluorescent lights in the hallway as I headed for the elevator. I remember the uncomfortable skirt I was wearing; again I remember my shoes.

So I wonder what will be imprinted on my brain when The Happy Moment happens. I should dress for the occasion. I should redecorate my walls with promising colors so when I think back on it I will have a beautiful memory to revisit, no fluorescent lights, no creaky chairs, no greasy popcorn. I should at least get some better shoes.

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4 responses to “Physical Memory”

  1. LADY. This is beautiful. I want to read more. What I also want to know is what was your physical memory(ies) when you won an award or got into a school or writing colony?

    Ooh, I hate the word “rejection”!


  2. When it happens, you will not believe it. You will have just come into the apartment from either rain or snow. The day you’ve just finished will be at once totally unremarkable and epitomal of what you don’t like about your life. There will be the pile of mail- some fliers and a bill sticking out. You’ll wonder how you can pay it as you unfold out of your coat. You’ll (nearly joking) snort at the thought that there’s probably a rejection there at the bottom of the pile while you’re untying and stepping out of your mucky shoes…You’ll avoid the letter for a few hours, or maybe a day. It will finally be E that asks you something about it. Whether that question is “So what did Xfirm say?” or “Why is this letter still on the counter?” I don’t know- but he’ll say something. You’ll look to him and say something about not wanting to get up until this episode is over.

    But finally you’ll open it. Maybe right before bed (not so likely) or perhaps on lunch because the thing’s been riding around in your bag for a day or two. But you’ll open it. Although your heart will ring like a telephone with the “We are pleased…” part, you’ll hold your breath in trying to wait for the ‘…but we’re going to pass…” part. You’ll wait to let that breath out- deflating, but you’ll get no chance. Scanning over and over the letter, second guessing if the phone number at the bottom is really real, inspecting the letterhead, but it’ll all be real.

    And you won’t have noticed having let out that breath you were holding. You won’t notice breathing in again. You’ll be made of air.


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