Memory is one of the strangest functions of our brains. In fact, it seems like it doesn’t even come from us at all. We never think about it in terms of lobes, grey matter and electrical signals, instead, we experience memory as random floods, pouring rain and dazzling explosions from some out there.
We all live in memory, an echo-chamber of our own thoughts and feelings. We throw them away and they bounce back. We forget about them and then run straight into them. They re-affirm where we are now, make us want to return, make us regret. Memory makes us who we in the present. And its the little moments that seem to make up the biggest part.
After months of uncertainty and failing friendships, I ended up on the floor of a mate’s house, sitting on a crusting Persian carpet, waiting for student housing opportunities to officially open for application. A sticky incense hung in the air. Within two minutes of mad digital scramble from across the world, the majority of student rooms were booked.
“I can’t do this.” I remember saying after seeing one, two, three, four rooms disappear before my mouse could click. “I’m not going.” My heart beat out of my chest and the universe turned dark around. Focus. Tunnel vision. And then a spark. I remember a confused flood of relief as I landed the second-to-last available student room in the entire city of Mannheim. I’d started collecting memories.
The first proper outing. The sun was out and the mercury was high, but I was not burning. Europe had nothing on Australia for sunburn.
I remember stomping through the cobblestone streets of Heidelberg, feeling confidence pump through my body where it had been so depleted the months before. A new man, a new body walking new streets. Fresh strength. Beers in the sun.
Sitting on a crumbling cement step in the parking lot of a castle. The morning mist had cleared and the greenery was lighting up. I’d finished my exploration of the castle and was waiting for a bus to take me back down to the small town it towered over.
I remember the day moving molasses slow and golden. With no aim, I sat under the sun and in the cool wind, drinking more beer and writing postcards to loved ones.
Fretting in Salzburg train station, wondering how in the hell we were going to meet with a friend who had come by a different train and had no phone with which to contact us. I remember the clean, white of the walls and the curving bones of the pillars there. I bought the best croissant of my life.
Suddenly, in a shock of blonde hair, she arrived behind me. We laughed and released the stress of the trip over coffees. How did we manage to run into one person, randomly, in the middle of a whole, busy continent?
The smell of my little room, bought at such a high price of stress, after my return from the UK. Was it damp? Sweet? Dusty? Something very personal. It was home after only five months. I flopped onto the bed, exhausted and wrapped in a comfort I’d never thought I’d achieve.
I have the catalogue now, I have the proof. I have gigabytes of photographs, a collection of souvenirs and a blog of some 80 posts about my travels. I have written about my experiences and shared more than I needed to, but I still find it’s those little memories that come unbidden that are the most powerful. It’s the smells, the tastes, those little moments that spark, that make me appreciate the past more than any photograph.
I remember less than I want and more than I expect. I remember the good and the bad. I want the echoes. I want to live, for a tiny while, in those pockets of yesterday that seem so beautiful now.