Saturday, February 2, 2008

Fresh Air Fiend: The View from Fifty

"I separated from my wife in London and quickly realized that I could not live in the city anymore. That very day I flew to the United States; I needed the comfort of my childhood home. I needed reassurance, the stimuli of those landscapes and sounds - the weather, the temperature, the odors. It was winter: frost, rattling branches, wood planks shrieking in the house, night skies, dead leaves.

I also needed the artifacts in that house, objects such as pictures and knickknacks. My chair. My desk. My books. With these, I felt, I could begin again. Once, about six years before, our London house was burglarized. People have various responses to news of a robbery. You feel violated, they say. The thieves must be desperate, they say. Criminals come from awful homes; they're on drugs; they need your stuff; you're lucky you weren't home; you might have been killed.

Mine was none of these. I felt, They stole my memories - they removed a portion of my mind! The insurance people asked how much my things were worth. I told them truthfully: they were priceless. I would never look upon those objects again and remember. For this reason, for a period of time I ranted like a fanatic. I am not talking about a video recorder or a radio. I am speaking of a small silver box that had the camphor-wood odor of Singapore, of the pen with the worn-down nib with which I wrote seven or eight books, of the amber necklace I bought with my last twenty dollars in Turkey. All of it gone, flogged to a fence somewhere in London. Sentimental value, people said. Yes, but to me there is no other value. If all we were talking about was money, then these things could have been replaced and I would have had no problem. What was removed from me by these thieves were the stimuli for some of my dearest memories."

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