Ring of Memories

Elizabeth Elsbach
    In a photograph there is a smiling mother and daughter dressed in the traditional kimono of my people. The little girl can be no more than five and she distractedly waves at the camera while she plays with the pink cloth of the obi. Her mother, sharing the same dark hair and laughing eyes, holds tightly to her daughter even as she gently smiles. She is a mother. And I can't help but wonder did she hold on to her daughter tightly when she first heard the news? When she saw the waves—impossibly high—heading for them? Did she cling to her child as she did in this lost photo? Or was it too late?
    The rubble surrounds it, this crinkled memory, but a scrap of brick keeps it from fluttering off. I reach for it...then stop. This is not my memory to hold. And maybe, I think, if I don't touch it they'll have to come back for it. Who would leave such a precious memory behind? If I take it then they won't have anything to come back for. To search for. So I leave it, in the dirt surrounded by broken debris. I don't touch it, just let my fingers ghost around it. Nearly touching but never actually doing so. I wouldn't want to mar the picture anymore. The child who smiles and the mother who holds something precious in her arms. I won't disturb them.
    So I leave it and I continue to walk. Tripping over ceiling beams and avoiding upside down cars. I'm searching. I'm not sure for what anymore. All I know that is that when I keep walking I can block it out. The noise of all my memories. All the thoughts and sounds thrown at me. Mommy, mommy, where are you? Runrunrun. Where is she? Where's mommy? Mommy. Mommy-- Just keep breathing. Ignore the stench. Can't ignore it. Pretend that you can. I keep on walking, using an abandoned golf club as a walking stick.
    The world is ending, or at least it feels that way. But I know, somehow, that the rest of the world is continuing to turn. People are getting up, going to work, smiling with friends, laughing, living while all around me the world ends. What do they think when they see our plight? These people who are thousands of miles away. Do they feel pity? Sorrow? Compassion? Or perhaps they remark on how sad it all is and then change the channel. Who are these people who watch our grief? Who am I to feel such grief?
    I stumble and trip. It's not on a piece of rubble from a building but rather a shoe. A small sandal, not even the size of my hand, decorated with a hummingbird. Before I can stop myself, I pick it up. And all at once my mind creates memories that never belonged to me. A giggling child, a girl running towards her big brother. He's just gotten into his first choice of high school. He's so smart. Little sister's gonna be smart just like him. Her big brother who bought her the most beautiful and favorite pair of sandals for her new school year. The best brother in the whole world. The best brother –Runrunrun. Here, hold my hand. Where's mommy? Keep running. Have to keep up. There's no time to stop. No time to think. Where's mommy? I want mommy. I don't know. I don't know. I don't---
    I gasp for air, still clutching the shoe tight. This isn't mine. Those aren't my sorrow tinged memories. None of it's mine. Unthinking, I toss the shoe away. Flinging it into the broken apartment complex that once resided three blocks away. I pick up my golf club and keep walking. Careful now, ever so carefully, so as to not find any more memories that don't belong to me. Don't want to disturb them. They're not mine to let go. I shouldn't touch them. They aren't mine.
    And then I see it, glinting in the dirt and trash. It's small but I would recognize it anywhere having seen it from the first moment of my life. A ring. A beautiful gold wedding ring. Inside are inscribed two names and a date. I know it without even having to pick it up. And I'm afraid to pick it up. For if I touch it, then it all becomes real. Everything that's happen that I've tried to forget, to numb out, to make unknowable. I can't touch it. I must.
    With trembling hands I gently brush the dirt around the gold away. Then, hesitantly, like a new fawn trying its legs out for the first time, I pick it up. The metal feels different now. No longer warm but damp and cold. The hand that once wore this ring missing.  The characters still remain. Carved into the metal like the faint hope in the grandmother in the shelter, determined that her grandchildren where alive no matter how many days had passed with out news. I wish I had such hope. But this ring---
    There's water. Too much water. Phone. Get to a phone. Thank God for good service. Ring, ring, then a pick up. Mom? Are you okay? Mom, can you hear me? Yes, I love you too. Mom, are you safe? Where are you? I know Mom. I know you love me. I love you too. Mom, what's happening? I hear waves. What do you mean there isn't much time? Mom? MOM!! The sounds of water then a dead line. Can't breathe. Got to get to higher ground. This isn't real. How can any of this be real. How can it possibly be--
    It is real. I know. There is a hole in my chest where my heart used to be and I find it hard to breathe. How do these things happen? I do not know. I just know that they do. How can anyone breathe after this? The grief is too much. It can't be human to feel this much pain. How am I still standing? And then I realize that I'm not standing, I'm kneeling. My knees pushed into the dirt and glass and brick that used to make up my home. The grief is too much. I can't keep silent.
    So I unleash my wails. The most primitive sound of humanity. Like a death cry but I'm not dying. “Mommy!! Mommy! I want my Mommy!! Mommy!” Oh God, I feel like I'm dying. I'm gasping for air and drooling and I can't even make words anymore. I'm clinging to the ring. My mother's ring. My last piece of the world. I can't be quiet. I can't stop screaming. It's just a desperate kneeing of lost hope and grief. Like a specter who's lost its home. There is nowhere to go and no one to turn to. So I wail. My grief staining the air and caring my sanity with it. I can't think, all I can do is feel. And I don't want to feel this anymore. This impossible loss. This black hole that consumes me. But I do. And so I cry.
    And all around the world cries with me.