For three years during my childhood, my parents drove from Maryland to the edge of the Appalachian Mountains in upstate New York to drop me off at summer camp. These were the summers I ran around tirelessly, swinging from ropes and turning over logs in search of salamanders. But the truth is, for the three years I spent there, my memories of it are vague. There are no narrative threads that tie together, just flashes of images, disappearing before I have the chance to make sense of them. I see myself playing Newcomb on the volleyball court, hitting tennis balls over the fence and then running to get them. A few melodies from our Color War songs still linger faintly in my mind. Mostly, I remember how the air felt in the morning, dewy on my face as we gathered around the flagpole in sweatshirts, the lake we swam in with little silver fish and the mountains that stacked up behind it. The last summer I went to this camp was the summer after sixth grade. At the end of the month my parents, unable to make the entire trek, sent me on the bus to Long Island with all the other campers. I must have had a feeling that it would be my last summer there because as the bus wove through country roads, I remember committing to memory a picture of the bales of hay dotting the fields. I remember promising myself I would never forget that image. And I haven’t. For some reason, that picture stuck. It seems that even then I understood the limits of my memory, that a narrative would get lost, that images were all I would be able to muster.
I find myself forgetting things with more alacrity every day. And even though I’m unable to consciously retain all my experiences, I also know that each one shapes me. The slippery nature of memory is a theme of this week’s “Best of the Web” selection, Travis Klunick’s story, “Yegus Y Caballos,” published by the Greensboro Review. The plot of Klunick’s story is a quiet one—a woman leaves her family, and her ranch-hand husband, Larry, is left with the task of raising their two daughters in the West Texas desert. Before his wife leaves, Larry tells her that he will always love her and she responds, saying, “No, you’ll forget. Soon enough.” Larry insists that he won’t, but as the story continues, the reader comes to understand that these memories, like the “mesquite wood around his heart,” will, likely, smolder and fade. Klunick’s story focuses on the days after the wife’s departure, when the family’s wounds are still hot and fresh and it’s impossible to say how the event will brand itself in Larry or his children’s minds. But the question of memory lingers throughout the story as Larry navigates his new role raising adolescent girls and revives a friendship with an almost-forgotten lover.
Let’s not lie: I like the idea of starting 2011 with a Texas story. When they say everything is bigger in Texas, they mean it. For me, this truth lies mostly in the landscape. Drive west on Interstate 10 and you’ll pass marshes, prairies, pine forests, canyons, deserts and mountains. Then there are the big skies, the twisters, the hurricanes, the desert lightning storms. Klunick’s story captures the haunting spirit of the West Texas landscape, the vast emptiness, the quiet and the power of nature. In the beginning, a storm looms on the horizon, “The great cumulonimbus flare out over the planes, anviling tall into the night. The thunder came rolling over the creosote, as though somewhere out in the darkness a colossus stood billowing canvas out from him far into the heavy storm air.” Some of my resolutions for this year are to explore more of the Texas landscape, to go camping more often, and to be a witness to a fierce desert storm. We at ASF hope you enjoy “Yegus Y Caballos” and wish you an adventurous and memorable 2011.