"Remember this?" I inquire, holding up the indistinct plaything,
a dog, maybe. "You used to take this around with you everywhere,
you always had it." I don’t know why I say it. I think it’s a test.
I observe the blank gaze change to recognition as she takes the toy,
turns it over and over in her small, pudgy hands before smiling brightly
and nodding, "I remember this."
It’s an awful game, this dishonesty, because I know for a fact she doesn’t
remember this toy, this toy probably isn’t even hers, I may have found
some other child’s toy in the back yard and just thought it was hers. I know
I don’t remember this toy, this fuzzy, dirt-covered dog-thing, can barely
remember when she was small enough to appreciate something like this myself.
She is consciously trying to amuse me, patronizing me, embellishing
on the pretend memories—"I called this dog ‘Scruffy,’ and we were best friends.
Scruffy thought I was his mother, and he was right." She looks at me, waiting
for my own ridiculous additions to the story, something about how I’m
this dog’s grandmother, and how I’ve missed this dog so much
since it went off to live in the back yard, under the deck, and how I’m so glad
that Scruffy’s found his way home
back to us again.
We take Scruffy inside and wash the dirt from the toy, dry its mangy, matted coat
with a blow-dryer, and in my head, I’m terrified at how quickly
she’s adopted the idea that this toy was a defining part of her childhood.
I spend the rest of the day imagining strangers on the street stopping by her
where she sits in the front yard, doodling her adventures with Scruffy on the sidewalk
in fluorescent swaths of chalk, saying, "Do you remember me? I used to be
your mommy, daddy, big brother, remember?” I imagine her nodding, smiling,
taking the proffered hand of the friendly stranger
put out to lead her away.