I read Karen Russel’s short story “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” a few years ago in her short story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.
Although the story itself was full of magic and metaphors—an alligator theme park, a ‘ghost’ boyfriend, a Bird Man, a swamp prom, and a gecko crown, there was one sentence that popped up in my mind from time to time even when I wasn’t thinking about this story in particular.
It was a sentence written by Ossie—Ava’s sister—in her letter to Ava: “Sorry, Ava, I have the sound of more words, but I could not remember the shapes of the letters.”
The sentence made me pause. I reread it. Again. Again. And it was just becoming more beautiful each time. It encapsulated so many things I could not explain. It gave me this funny feeling in my stomach, the one you have when you are about to ride a roller coaster. I was mesmerized by that sentence.
I picked up the story again this weekend, and as I read it, I found the little details about that story I had forgotten—until I stumbled upon that sentence once again. It was still beautiful. It still took my breath away. And I know that in years to come, even when the story has faded from my memories—everything blurs with other short stories I have read and loved—I will still remember this one sentence.
Perhaps, this is how we remember people.
We tend to shape our memories of them based on the limited time we spend with them—and our memories of them, over time, will be replaced with one single word, one single interaction, or one single feeling. We may never truly understand that person in their entirety or remember everything this person has said and done—only the ones that somehow resonate with us at a particular moment, something we choose to compartmentalize.
Something we choose to remember.