It was on my way to work that I saw it. As I followed the surge of suit-clad workers walking across London Bridge, the hazy morning light illuminating their dark under-eye circles and dancing off of unsteady coffee cups, I looked across to the beautiful European buildings that I could never name, and the ugly red cranes that framed them. And then, with the flick of my head, I saw it.
A bouquet of flowers, with heads of pink and orange and yellow spilling over the top of cellophane, attached to the railing with tight elastic around the stems. And then on the floor. More flowers, bright and fresh and nothing like the steely, hard silver bridge they were rested against. There was a note, too, handwritten and framed in glass. I hadn’t seen this tribute the day before. But I kept seeing it after that.
The next day I walked past with a friend. With her by my side, I felt courageous enough to stop in front of the memorial and read the note. It was from somebody’s sister. The person who lost their life. A man. She began the cursive note with, ‘I wasn’t there that day last year’, and followed up with the date and the time and the whereabouts; right there, that spot on the bridge. She sounded guilty but ultimately helpless, noting the troubles he’d had that nobody knew about. Her way of accepting the tragedy, perhaps.
As we re-entered the slew of workers, my first thought wasn’t that the bridge had enabled her brother, or that she was still mourning his death 365 days on. It was that I’d never remember.
Stories and memories are constant. But, for both space problems and mental priority lists, we can’t keep other peoples. I can’t keep the woman’s written memory of her brother. I can’t lock away the moment I saw the flowers there and read the note. We are able to retain these fragments for long periods of time, easily years. We can reference them when we need to, in conversations of the future, but as we age, so will they, until they’re no longer accurate. They’ll be grainy, and we’ll give up any hope of finding the truth or remembering hard enough, instead forcing ourselves to pull upon any commonsensical details that give the story some level of verisimilitude. But they don’t live within us. They can’t.
Our brains don’t have the capacity or need for other people’s stuff. This comes not from a close-minded perspective. There’s no set immigrant policy, no barricade. Other people’s stories can shape us, guide us, teach us. But they can’t truly be part of us, no matter how they might move us. It’s not to say they won’t still exist. Just not in a forever home.
Over the next week, the flowers remained, but their spirit was no longer present. They were muted, tattoos that had faded. Visibly wilted, every curve and heave and drop was set in it’s crispy state, honed by the river breeze and occasional showers. A cloth teddy bear had been added to the collection, as well as a photo of a woman kissing a man’s cheek. But the forlorn flowers overshadowed the new additions, the hunched bouquet on the railing barely moving now, static and stiff and gone.
This, the grey heap of thoughts, wasn’t her memory. It wasn’t how she remembered her brother or how she remembered the way she felt when she lay the note down. The memories she did have, millions, were buried within her body, resting in their own allotted space. But that heap was all I would remember. Her handwritten words, maybe, vaguely. But mostly, the heap at the point of expiry. And soon, not even that at all.
Flowers don’t last forever, and neither do stories, not other people’s, anyway. When we want to retell them, we make a replica with embellishments and inaccuracies. Meanwhile, the original works just exist, somewhere in the ether, never to be remembered by us. Perhaps by someone else, until their memory fades, too.