Memory Triggers

Memory Triggers Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops saguaro cactus and her young daughter being lifted high in her chair.The first thing I noticed in Tucson was prickly pear cactus. It looked like bunches of lollipops. They were all over. Tucson, with its sculpted mountains and cactus statues everywhere I turned, was like no place I could remember. The desert, the canyons, saguaro, and javelinas; it was all strange territory.
The event that brought me to Tucson was almost as foreign as the landscape: my cousin’s daughter’s bat mitzvah, a coming-of-age celebration in the Jewish religion.

Religion and bar mitzvahs have little to do with my life. Years back, I had tried to give religion to my children, wanting them to have what I did not. But those days were long gone. My daughter gone, my son going off to lands stranger than this, I’d forgotten their bat and bar mitzvahs. I was in Tucson for my Aunt Terri and my cousins. And I was excited about the hike I would take, meeting up with friends from Ithaca who would show me mountains up close, and canyons. There was the promise of sunshine, temperatures in the 70s, tamales, good Mexican food. Tucson might be the place I’d retire to someday. I had only happy thoughts.

Maybe it was the passage that the bat mitzvah girl read, an old favorite of my kids’, about the Nile River spewing frogs all over Egypt. Or maybe it was when the lollipop cactus started to look like bouquets of flattened balloons deflating, falling to the ground. Or the sight of the girl’s long hair pulled back revealing tiny earrings, the lace on her princess-perfect dress, the bright thirteen-year-old smile. Maybe, when the cacti began to resemble carousing dancers, I started to notice the prickly thorns. Soon thorns were stinging my eyes, grinding in my stomach, all over, everywhere. So by the time the crowd cheered and lifted the girl high up in her chair over their heads, something in me burst. I dashed off, frantically running out, away, fast, anywhere.

Outside there was blinding sunshine. The sky was vast and blue. My feet stopped at the edge of a small ravine and I howled for who knows how long. Riots of lollipop cactus hugged the ground around me. I photographed them as I waited for my eyes to lose their red grief-struck look. Damn. Darn, I thought. Good thing I wasn’t wearing eye makeup. It seems, no matter where I go, sweet memories of my daughter will follow.


What strange things have triggered your emotions?


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4 thoughts on “Memory Triggers

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    Sounds like a set-up, Robin. I’m sorry it was so hard, but then I think howling and wailing is a normal and healthy thing to do in that situation. I love Tuscon. Vic and I went many winters during spring break. We went a few months before his death, because we thought it would be good for his illness to get out of Ithaca cold, but he couldn’t handle the bright sunlight or early April heat and hid in the interior dark rooms of the we rented instead of going on hikes or sitting in the sun. I only wanted to come home. I have friends there, but haven’t made the trip. I will. Maybe.

    I don’t get triggered by any particular thing. I think it’s because I never seem to forget that Vic isn’t around, especially when I travel or do something new or do something old or something we did together. When I’m alone or with my family. When the feelings surface, which they don’t do so often now, I’m not surprised. “Hello, Grief. I know you.”

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I have yet to learn this, Elaine, to greet these moments with, “Hello Grief.” As with you, they don’t happen as often these days but to be able to say, “I know you,” and welcome grief as an old friend would be something to groove into my repertoire. Instead of being bowled over by it like I couldn’t ever imagine sad memories catching up with me. I think I know what you mean by “never seem to forget Vic isn’t around.” There’s like an underlying knowledge or ever-present acceptance that permeates my every level of consciousness. But every once in a while …

  2. Kimberly Ryan

    These triggers really do hit us when least expected. And like you Robin, when they overwhelm us, all we can do sometimes is take ourselves away and find a space to be with them to allow them to gently or not so gently move through us. In time I have found that the grief does become gentler, but have found too that there are times when these triggers are like runaway dust devils that bring our deepest grief to the surface. Thank you for putting into words what has now become a “normal” part of what we are living, so let us learn all we can about how to live with what grief brings us, instead of avoiding, pretending and swallowing the big lump in our throat , and allow ourselves the acceptance of grace and comfort from where ever it may come.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      The triggered emotions are so powerful, Kimberly. And the way they sneak and squinch up and surround you so completely, you think you will drown until you tame the storm or can let yourself go with it if no one is around. You’re a few steps ahead of me, I think. I am still floored when this happens. I haven’t learned to see this as part of my new normal yet. Especially when I was completely out of my normal, in foreign territory. Maybe if I think of them as your “runaway dust devils” they will not seem as terrifying. Cheers!


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