There is no tabula rasa.
Even in the womb you hear voices that as a newborn you later recognize. The voices acquire faces, forms and gestures to become Mom, Dad and Uncle Joe. There might even be a great-grandmother who hangs around just long enough to bounce you on her wrinkled knee before turning into an old photograph in a stuffy frame at Uncle Joe’s house. Old-lady babysitters (Mom won’t trust teenagers until you’re almost one yourself), coffee-sipping, tongue-wagging Mrs. Rogal and the only other neighborhood child, 3 year-old, blond Kevin enter your world. Even though you don’t remember Kevin, who moved away before you yourself were three, you retain a penchant for straight blond hair.
For a while people, like words and new foods, are thrust at you at ever increasing speed. Montessori school gives you the view of the harbor over a wide expanse of grass and the chestnut-bee-hived Italian teacher, Mrs. Bertucci, singing My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean. Grade schools, summer camps and churches provide an ever-increasing litany of names and faces, voices and gestures. Girlfriends, best friends, boyfriends, roommates, neighbors, partners, husbands, yoga monitors, group therapy leaders, creative writing class teachers and all their integrants and add-ons occupy corners of your ever-more-crowded world and yet somehow, 39 years later, all you remember of 5th grade is a girl named Ginny Burns who was your friend that year but she wasn’t even the friend who shared that first cigarette butt you found on the side of the road at the entrance to the trail through the woods that took you to the big rock you used for telling secrets and, from then on, smoking. Sometimes you confuse the names of your college boyfriend with the name of your ex-husband (they both begin with G…), yet you always have the name Ginny Burns (also a G-name) right there, ready for a use you haven’t found in thirty-nine entire years, with all their days and weeks and months and quarters.
Now more people seem to be leaving than arriving, and yet those who left don’t leave the corners you gave them, even if you don’t have the proper homing equipment to pull them up at will. You can hear Grampy’s voice clear as a bell, but what he’s saying is “Ya dummy!”, and although you can’t put your Grammy’s voice to any of her phrases, you easily access the slim gold link watch she gave you for your 18th birthday and that you lost when some stranger bumped your left wrist while you were walking home after work with the sun in your eyes along Bravo Murillo in Madrid in the fall of 1983.
If there were a tabula rasa, you could extract all those names you don’t need -Ginny Burns just lost forever- and you could sift through it all so that instead of seeing Pep’s eyes half-closed and rolled back in his head with little slits of white peeping out from his coma, you could see the way he looked at you and smiled after he bent to kiss you in the middle of Plaça Catalunya and said "de esto tendremos que conversar", and you could bring up and hold the way his bearded cheek felt under the palm of your right hand, and forever erase the silky softness of the hairs along his right arm, the skin of which you just couldn’t bring yourself to touch as it cooled and you waited.