In Memory

Posted on May 27, 2015



 “We comfort ourselves by reliving memories of protection. Something closed must retain our memories, while leaving them their original value as images.”
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press, Boston, 1994.

The idea was to write about the haunts of Memphis. There we were, sitting in the booths of one of the most legendary dive bars in the city, Earnestine and Hazel’s, which is by far my favourite place downtown.  I’m not only saying this because I live a short walk away from there; I’m saying this because of its unique atmosphere, something both unsettling and familiar, something uncanny and inexplicable, that floats everywhere in the bar. I’m saying this because of the memories, the people making the place, their imprint, and their very own and private history.

Now, maybe you have already heard all possible stories about haunts and ghosts in Earnestine and Hazel’s. You’ve seen itthere,  there , or even there, if you keep a tab on haunted places. You have no doubt heard the stories of the famous haunted jukebox, acting on its own will. Someone, in one of these random conversations one has in bars, has told you tales of poltergeists grappling your ankles as you carefully make your way up to the first floor, holding the banister frantically, almost sure of this “leg pull” waiting to happen in the shadows on the very last stair just before you reach the hallway. You may have even have taken part in the famous “ghost tours” around Memphis.  They all mention E&H, in which you’d be waiting for a fright, that chill on your arms crawling in and through your bones. I know this account of paranormal activity has an appeal, as there is a certain draw to feeling alive in the middle of the eerie, unattainable, almost fascinating parallel world of life after death. You too probably want to believe in some of these stories.

As we sat sipping a few Ghost Rivers and chatting with Karen at the bar, the idea was to bring something else to the discourse, something decidedly less supernatural, not as “Halloweenesque.” Something that has to do with what it means to be human and what it entails to live in a place and leave a trace here in this world: a remain.

The idea was then to write about memory. The living relic left enclosed in a room or inside objects but also in the place itself, transmitted from others to us, and what we can understand of it. The idea of haunting bound with our own inhabited world, and includes the presence of someone or something that remains in a room as you first penetrate a place.

A past, or a future, that is there within you as you sit for the first time and all the times that follow. The smells, noises, feelings, thoughts, the flesh, and the mind altogether within you and the place, talking to each other from beyond. Somewhere you have never stepped foot before, and which yet makes you say “I’ve been here before”.

That was the idea, and I could have gone on and on.

But then came the most impossible of all news; a friend of my husband and I had just died unexpectedly, a wonderful woman, mother, partner, brilliant writer and academic named Dr. Pleshette DeArmitt. With this news, the words and formulations of this world suddenly became meaningless, or worse, a supplement of sadness, an insult to the unthinkable grief her family and close relatives had just been thrown into.

How was I to write on haunting in the aftermath of this disaster? Nothing made sense anymore. There was no way of turning the ordeal into order or creating something outside of this chaos. What could possibly be said now that she was gone and for us and overall her closest family, the whole world had crumbled into pieces?

Faced with the absurd task of writing about haunts after such a brutal death, there was nothing to say that would not be so shallow, so futile once put into words.

All that was left was this: memories. Remainders of her warm and welcoming presence lingered, helping us through all the stages of a move from Paris to Memphis, Tennessee. How she and I could relate to the alienation provoked by a new and foreign place, even within one’s own culture. Images of her smile, her radiant and beautiful smile that pierced right through your heart. The confidences we shared in the car, in between groceries errands. Her inspirational intelligence, her incredible sense of humour, that would make you grin even through tears, her book, still sat there on the living room table, her capacity to make anyone she cared about feel as though everything was going to be okay. But was everything going to be okay now in the middle of  “what-could-have-been”, of “what-was-to-come” and that will, indeed, never come?

The memory of Pleshette will always remain vivid within those who have been blessed by her beloved presence. Even the ones that got to know her just a little while.

To me, this memory will stay engraved into a personal experience of this place, the city of Memphis. Not as a ghost from an immediate present, nor, in a near future, as a haunt from the past, but as herself, purely.

Hopefully, sooner or later, we will be able to overcome the absurdity of surviving a world that has just collapsed.

(In loving memory of Dr. Pleshette DeArmitt)

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