Nabokov once wrote, “There are two kinds of visual memory: one when you skillfully recreate an image in the laboratory of your mind, with your eyes open […]; and the other when you instantly evoke, with shut eyes, on the dark innerside of your eyelids, the objective, absolutely optical replica of a beloved face…”
As time and distance separate me from those I care for, I find myself staring off into the distance, or a blank space on the wall, trying to recall my last moments with them, piecing together our words, gestures, our attire and surroundings to bring back what I was feeling when we last met. I sometimes doubt my memory and struggle to recall their features and although I can tell tell myself that I love their eyes, their smile or a signature gesture, I cannot recall it. It is not until I close my eyes and fix on one key detail, that the whole picture re-forms in my mind’s eye. When the image is complete, it’s like I’m there with them, sharing a laugh or an embrace. In some cases, it takes the generation of the memory of a twisted frown, an argument or a flash of sad eyes to bring them back to me. From there, I can trace the steps to the features I adore and the person attached to them .
For this exercise, close your eyes and recreate the face and expression of someone in your life. Try to recall everything about their features, If you want to expand, try to remember the last words you exchanged or the circumstances of your last meeting. What were they wearing? Where was it? Were you sitting, standing walking? Be as descriptive as you can and try to do it for a couple of people. You’ll be surprised how much comes out. Don’t forget to try to write what you were feeling.
Example: When I close my eyes, I see her quite clearly, a pretty-nosed girl of sixteen. She sits on a stool in the kitchen with her slashed black jeans tight against her slim frame. I feel at once pride and envy, remembering my figure at her age. I glance down and realise I’m wearing the same jeans and chuckle at the stark difference. She’s tapping away on her phone and her head is low with her brows furrowed in concentration, the hood of her black hoodie back and her long brown hair tucked behind her ear. It occurs to me that my niece is beautiful. I’m filled with both admiration and fear and a sudden protective flash of preemptive hatred for anyone who ever dares to hurt her. Then, in a wink, the calm voice inside my head reminds me of who’s daughter she is, what a strong and sensible character they have raised and hate turns to pity for the imagined future enemy.
When she turns her head and notices me standing there, only a few seconds later and a few feet away from where she sits with her back to the kitchen door, the precious phone drops from her hand and her face bursts into an endearing grin. She hops from the kitchen stool and reaches for me, arms outstretched, and as I pull her to me in a rib-crunching embrace, I release she is taller, nearly matching my height. She’ll pass me and be model height I think. I look at her intelligent face, and clock the row of subtle freckles across the bridge of her nose, her lovely long lashes framing her brown eyes and the English rose complexion of her cheeks.
“How’s it going kid?” I ask and we pour ourselves into adjoining kitchen stools for a good gossip. The other grown ups melt into the background and begin to chatter while we, 16 and middle-aged talk movies, books and music, my favourite subjects in good company. My sister in law offers Prosecco (though more to me) and we nod assent in unison.
Example: We walked into the room and closed the glass door. Even before I reached the chair, the words where forming in my mind, “I owe you an apology.” I went on with what I had to say, trying to focus on the response, looking for some sign in his face that I would be forgiven. We sat on opposite sides of a small round table, in low green plastic chairs. He leaned back lazily as he so often did, with his legs stretched out before him with a posture of such nonchalance, it was hard to feel anything but warmth, ease and the genuine desire to be forgiven, for us to go back to the nervous yet friendly demeanour that so often categorised our talks.
As he spoke, I listened for the tone of his voice to provide me with some clue as to our future. Although we were discussing serious matters, when I met his eyes I could see they were smiling. As we took turns talking, it was as though we were both searching for some understanding from the other.
With the awkwardness melting away, I too began to lean back and relax. We talked of things that matter to each of us and that sharing gave way to the equilibrium that we had temporarily disturbed through misunderstanding.
I now see the scene of our parting quite clearly. He, turning to walk in the opposite direction with his white-shirted back angling itself towards to door. I, quickly moving to leave the scene, while muttering a final disclaimer until we turned and looked back one last time. “See ya, Mate.” were my last words to him, uncertain if we would ever meet again, but with a flutter of hope in my chest that time and circumstance would allow it. He smiled, a subtle, knowing smile, and there his face remains frozen in my mind, complete with short, dark beard, the smiling eyes and an almost imperceptible expression of relief.