• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • August 5, 2012 in Columnists

    Memorize, memorize, memorize, and Never Forget… just in case

    by Debra DeAngelo

    Reprinted from Sept. 11, 2011

    This column won first place in the 2012 National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspapers Contest for “Serious Columns.”


    My husband gets on airplanes the way the rest of us get on busses or into our cars — no biggie, just part of the daily routine, just another random business trip, just another random Tuesday morning.

    I kiss him goodbye when he heads out the door, and try not to worry while he’s in the air, but there’s no try, Yoda, and I fret and fuss until the moment my cell phone rings: “Hi, baby, I’m on the ground in Chicago…” “Hi, baby, I’m on the ground in Philadelphia…” “Hi baby, I’m on the ground in Madrid…”

    And then I exhale.

    Sometimes, when we’re lying in bed at night, the moonlight through the curtains gently backlights his chiseled profile… forehead, nose, lip, chin, all rimmed in a thin, golden glow. I soak it in, and then close my eyes and run my fingertips slowly, lightly, over every inch and curve of his face, recording each plane and angle.

    “What are you doing,” he’ll ask me, sleepily.


    But I don’t add, “just in case.”


    My son had a rocky childhood and adolescence, for sure. He flew the nest at the first possible moment, and weren’t we both relieved about that. He hit stride in his 20s, got through college, entered the workforce and is even starting his own business. Life wasn’t kind to Jimmy, but he’s succeeding. Anyway.

    I feel like I held him for the first time just yesterday, and now he’s almost 30! He’s so old!

    I’m so old.


    I inhale deeply, and exhale slowly.

    Visits with my son are more like watching standup comedy than conversation – I’m merely the rapt audience of one. Why fight it. I sit back, just along for the ride, and absorb the cadence of his voice, the wild, wacky expressions and raucous, lively laughter. Life may have taken a bite out of his hide, but not his sense of humor. His eyes still sparkle with mischief and wonder just like when he was a toddler. I peer adoringly through the veneer of adulthood, and I can still see my sassy, saucy, spunky little boy, but so animated is he, telling his story, he doesn’t notice. He doesn’t ask me what I’m doing. But if he did, I’d reply, “Memorizing.”

    Just in case.


    My daughter lives in San Francisco. She walks, bikes, busses and BARTs her way around like she owns the place, and God help the panhandling soul who looks at her the wrong way. Conquered college, conquered the city, and life, well… life, I suggest you submit to her will now. Why make it hard on yourself.

    Fearless as a honey badger, she is. And yet… every moment she’s away has an asterisk, a niggling tug on my mind’s sleeve: My baby, all alone in the big, bad city.

    And I hold my breath. Even as I breathe, I’m always holding my breath.

    Until I see her. Then the asterisks dissolve, and I can enjoy the moment — maybe a bottle of red over tapas, and plenty of intelligent, sharp conversation. Suddenly, I’ll feel giddy. And not from the wine. Just from listening to her.

    Where did this bright, beautiful being come from? Certainly not from me. I was just the conduit. And she’ll catch me gazing at her in starstruck wonder, and fix her ridiculously huge, green eyes right on me.

    “Stop it,” she’ll command.

    She calls it staring. I call it memorizing. Just in case.


    Profiles. Laughter. Conversations. I burn them into memory, etch them into my very neurons, every mannerism and inflection, every bump, every eyelash, every embrace, every “I love you.” They complain that I “stare” too much. But it could never be enough.

    I can get away with tracing husband’s face, memorizing with my fingertips, creating a tactile trail, and he patiently obliges because he’s accepted that I’m a bit nutty that way. But my children would never tolerate that. Of course, they don’t realize I’ve already done it.

    I can close my eyes and in my mind, trace every round, silky curve, the tiny earlobes and lips, the tender nostrils and firm, sweet cheeks, and brush my nose through the curling wisps of hair, and inhale the intoxicating scent of heaven itself.
    This is my “Never Forget.” And not just memories past, but moments present. Because sometimes husbands don’t return from random business trips, and that cell phone never rings. And sometimes sons choose to go to war rather than college, and you’re left to peer at your little boy through the veneer of the grave. And sometimes brave, bright young women are hard at work in some big building in some big city, and then a jet flies into it, and nothing’s left but ash and memories.

    That’s what September 11 taught me. We must Never Forget. Just in case. Because life is flippantly cruel and unpredictable enough on its own, without any assistance from crazed religious fanatics. And you never know which phone call or story or conversation will be the last. So, trace a nose with your fingertip and laugh out loud and share a bottle of wine, and be thoroughly, exceedingly, dizzyingly grateful that we’re all still here, we’re all okay. Inhale, exhale… just keep breathing.

    But Never Forget: Every. Moment. Matters.

    • Loved this Debra and your words are wise. That is why the Jewish people mostly and others too use the words “Never Forget” when talking about the holocaust. Wise wisdom because life is so fragile and in a moment of randomness and sometimes madness can change everything.

      • Judy N

      • August 5, 2012 at 11:33 am
      • Reply

      This is a beautiful column, Debra. Thanks for reprinting it.

    • Geeze, I was all set to say something really stupid until I read these words that are so beautiful they actually made me shut up. Words like these could only come from you and I simply adore you and your family. I don’t care much for your cats though.

      • Gary

      • August 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm
      • Reply

      This is great work. Congrats. Deserving of the recognition.

      • Peter Dyer

      • August 7, 2012 at 12:04 pm
      • Reply

      I remember this one. Beautifully written and deserving of the honor, Debra.

      • Jesse

      • August 7, 2012 at 7:17 pm
      • Reply

      When I started reading, it was at the frayed end of a long day. Then the words got in like missiles, and the nervous layer of responsibility left me. I remember… savor this…him, her, you, this. Thanks.

    • Thank you, everyone. 🙂
      This column actually stung me to write it. Very rarely do I get choked up when I’m writing. But I did when I was writing this one.

      • Matt Forrest

      • August 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm
      • Reply

      I to am like you since that day… I say I love you more to all my family and friends, just in case. My middle son Joined the Air Force party for that day and of course the future GI Bill….. 10 years to that Day he and I started our cross country trek to move his stuff to his first Duty station in Virginia. When I had to leave him to fly back home it was very emotional. Teh emotions sneak up on me when I least suspect it and grab me and remind me to cherish all that I have and love. Many Blessings to you my friend for sharing this part of you. Some day we will have that glass of Red(or something) and meet!- Matt

    • You, my dear, have read my “heart”! That is just the way I have always felt about my husband and children. Even though my girls are hitting their 40’s there is not aday that goes by that I don’t worry about them, praying, that they are well and safe.
      The world is so different now and knowing that they nor their children will ever know the true sound of peace, is heart breaking. We pray daily for change and will continue to do so not just for us and our family
      but for everyone!

    • I remember reading this and it choked me up then as it did just now.

      • Christie H

      • August 8, 2012 at 9:32 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you for sharing. Such a beautiful column, and such wise words.

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