A long time ago, a woman who worked with two children whom we both loved told me how much she dreaded the end of her tenure as their caregiver, even though that end was far away. I had thought my own claim to those children was stronger, bonded by blood. I empathised, but did not imagine that the loss she feared would soon be mine. It was only a short while afterwards when those bonds became collateral damage in an ongoing conflict between grown-ups. I was a young adult then. Enough years have passed now that when I recently met one of those children, he was already the age I’d been when we had loved and known each other best.
His childhood self is vivid in my memory in ways that have faded in his; I hold dear versions of him that he can’t remember. And among many younger selves of mine who have emerged in reflections and revelations lately, some painful but all healing, is the young woman he knew when he was that child. Do these selves of ours exist not only as I remember them, but also because I remember them?
Is there a way to speak of a separation to someone who does not recall or perhaps even know that it happened, and is it not unfair to burden them with the choices other people made? I treaded carefully around the tender edges of my sadness, still treating him as a young one to be protected. I had prepared myself for the possibility that despite not quite remembering me, somewhere deep in him would be a small scar of perceived abandonment or betrayal, which would affect his present response to me.
Meeting him again, anew, I noticed how in some moments, he moved like he had when he was a child, belly first, shoulders swaying. I could see no jagged edges anywhere; I could almost trace him through that decade of distance as if I’d always watched him from afar (I had not). He had none of the swagger and bristle of his peers. He was thoughtful, a listener. Pride is a peculiar emotion, an appropriation of another’s effort, but I knew the field of study he’d chosen owed something to me, and I wanted but could not share my recollection of when he first turned towards it. It fell into that heart-shaped box of anecdotes either too precious or potentially embarrassing to share in that limited, not private space. One day, I would like to give him that memory, and with it the assurance that he has always been who he aspires to become.
Perhaps he does have that small scar somewhere, from our separation, but he also has the imprints of having been loved by me, and having been taught by me.
Finally, I could no longer not ask, plainly – “Do you remember me?” “Of course,” he said, but I did not push further.
I cannot say with certainty if our unremembered selves exist or cease to, but I know that love travels a long way, a vessel that vanishes over the horizon but journeys onwards beyond our sight.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on August 1st 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.