UC Berkeley News


"But what I'd really like to do is..."

Larry Ruth (Deborah Stalford photo)
To remember.

Visitors to the hospital know particulars: "accident," "injury," that two whole days and parts of two more are missing, but they also know that I rejoice in seeing their faces; phone calls, simply hearing a human voice, incredible; that my mind lets go of their words, their meaning and advice, even before they finish. I'm curious as to when the calendar will reappear, when memory will return, spring break having lasted a little too long. A problem. "I know," telling the neurologist, ".can't recall the name of that Chinese restaurant on Solano. Hot and sour soup, prawns too." I've eaten there a hundred times. Slate floors, faux stucco walls, an altar to household gods, ancestors' portraits hanging above the tables, guests wondering who looked over their dinner, the glassed-in kitchen noisy, plumes of steam, aromas wafting out, waiters loaded with dishes, shades of jalapenos in the prawns echoing shades of a waiter's hennaed hair.

All that, but I can't remember, and forget more: who called, dates, what I'd wanted. The doctor listens, says it's interesting that I know I don't know, but haven't simply gone over there, read the sign. But finding the name that way, I say, what would that change? I'd just have to remember something else I've forgotten. Weeks pass, fractures heal, still I can't remember the name, or how many weeks I've known that I can't remember. I forget appointments, miss one, two . more. The movies. Haven't seen one in months. I take a bus, the wrong one, and get off, the theatre two miles down Solano, feeling good, decide to walk, past bookstores, past the place that used to be McCallum's, the ice cream incredible, men in tartan aprons, tams. When he was alive, my Dad would cross town to go, and thought a couple of the clerks had worked there since his undergrad days; in junior high we'd walk from Garfield and order sundaes, a "Nightmare," or perhaps a "Kitchen Sink," big enough for five, six, or even better, good enough for free ice cream for a year, if at one sitting, you could finish one by yourself. I'd forgotten, the restaurant ahead of me, my search of memory, then arrived, the sidewalk in front; looking elsewhere, a bit late, I turned, caught a corner of the window, saw no sign, no name, walked on, and smiled. Past Walker's Pie shop, and other excursions, other afternoons.

Finally, the theatre, the film, five seasons at a hermitage, life cycles, an island, a monk, a boy, a young woman, beautiful but in poor health, a rowboat, the story interweaving practice, discipline, tolerance, and letting go. Parts struck me to the core. At the water's edge, a wooden gate, meant to be shut, but open, no barrier. A reminder, reverential, purely symbolic, I thought. Until it closed.

The boat unmoored, drifts, language unfastens; oars lazy, feather the water, characters and story unwind, ripple across layers, lake, time, restaurant; a name surfaces, sticks, it's Kirin.