Meta Mulcahy is dead. Now, to most people, this probably doesn’t mean much, unless you’re a fan of Catholics for Choice, the abortion-rights organization I believe she helped found in 1973, but to me she was simply my neighbor. I’d often see her on my block, usually with her little dog, and if Sasha was with me, Meta would greet her by name. It wasn’t much, just one of those simple neighborhood interactions, but it was nice, something to look forward to whenever I took Sasha out.
Anyway, Meta died a couple of weeks ago, at the age of 74, so that’s that. I don’t know any details beyond the barest facts: she was and is no more.
Sasha, of course, will remember none of this. She’s just two and a half, and her memory of family members is still a little hazy. She’ll respond to the idea of Grandma and Grandpa, but yesterday, when my sister, Nell, called, I could see that the idea of “Auntie Nell” didn’t exactly trigger a strong emotional response. (Hey, Nell, we’ve gotta have you guys hang out more!)
I can’t get too worked up about this myself, either. What can you expect of a toddler? That she’ll remember the minor characters who passed in and out of her pre-sentient life? Characters like Meta and Sun Ayi, her first nanny, who moved back to China and then to Seoul?
Of course, there’s some kind of chance as well that some memory, some image, will linger in Sasha’s developing consciousness—something she’ll cling to as a first memory, however warped by time and by other people’s recollections. My own first memories go back to when I was just 18 months old, but are so generic (getting a cookie from our upstairs neighbor) as to be unreliable (who doesn’t have such memories?).
Last night, when I picked Sasha up from preschool, I considered for a bit whether to bring her to a remembrance ceremony for Meta Mulcahy, held in a garden two blocks from our street. But then, the father of Sasha’s best friend, Katerina, invited me out for a drink—it was my birthday—and I said yes. As with Sasha, Meta will remain a hazy part of my own memory, the old woman next door who always said hello to my daughter, and nothing more.
But I’m left with one last question, this one unanswerable: In which child’s memory will I be but a cameo, a half-seen minor character? Whose Meta am I?