Essays - Spring 2017

Keeping Faith

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After a loss from which there is no recovery, I turned to books—not for solace or forgetting, but simply to survive

iStock photo/Illustration by David Herbick

By Mark Lane

March 6, 2017



October 2014. A gray-sky day in a cold town that will never feel like home. The temptation to hopelessness is strong. Last night, my girlfriend unknowingly put on the music I used to play to get my infant son to sleep. I would hold him against my shoulder and do side-to-side dance steps. It worked every time. “When he’s grown up,” my then-wife and I would say, “we won’t be able to listen to this album without breaking down.” He died in an accident seven years ago, while we were moving here, to Montana, when he was three years old.

I did not break down last night when I heard the music. Today, as I sit in my dim living room, which is also my office, I am looking at the books on my shelves.

As I approach 40, my memory feels crowded and fluid. Everything that occurs to me in the present has some reference point in the past, though what I remember is as likely to be fictional as actual. When I sense that what presents itself to me as memory didn’t occur in my life, I often can’t recall whether the pseudomemory is from a dream or a book.

Walking with a friend recently along the streets of Paris, talking about the arcades and the 19th century, I was on the verge of telling a story about a salon I remembered, before realizing that I was thinking of Madame Verdurin’s “evenings” in Proust. That those gatherings were fictional and set a century or so before my birth, conducted in a language I barely speak and in a country I have only visited, made no difference to my memory’s sorting machinery, which grants the same status to Odette and my ex-wife, to Professor Cottard and a supposedly smart guy I used to know who once told me he wouldn’t read at all if not for the need to hold forth at cocktail parties. More than once, in moments of feeling like a failure, I have determined that I am blaming myself for failing to finish Swann’s essay on Vermeer. On some level of consciousness, I believe it is I and not Tolstoy’s Nikolai Rostov who hunted that wolf, I and not Prince Bolkonsky who lay unconscious on the battlefield until Napoleon discovered me still breathing.

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Mark Lane lives in Missoula, Montana. His writing has appeared in the Oxford American, Denver Quarterly, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere.

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