When I was one year old, my family uprooted from our Baltimore environment to move to Rome, Italy for the entire year. Though this drastic change was not much of an adjustment for me as a baby, it was for my mom and dad as well as my two sisters and my brother, all in middle school. Our family of six tried as much as we could to assimilate into the Roman lifestyle: my siblings went to an Italian public middle school, my mother took classes in Italian, and my parents started to give gifts of panettone. The experience of traveling around Europe and living in a foreign country certainly made my family cling to one another even more as a family and a comfortable space, (one that spoke English, of course).
As I grew up, I envied my siblings for traveling the world but also for having that experience of family closeness. After returning to the USA when I was 2, my parents separated when I was 3 years old, and later divorced. The thought of a united family, much less that family all together in Italy, seemed like a dream. My parents rarely talked of the years that they were married, and though they sometimes mentioned the trip quickly in regards to something else, we never discussed that experience in detail. I was always intrigued about that year, and I couldn’t understand how my family members either had forgotten, or were extremely nonchalant about such a unique experience.
Seventeen years later, after divorces, engagements, graduations, moves and careers, the six of us returned back to Rome for the first time, all together. We went because my two sisters lived there, and because my parents were getting remarried after 15 years of divorce. They had decided to remarry in Rome, and in lieu of such a great occasion, they decided to include their four children in their (second and final) sacramental union and honeymoon of sorts. Throughout the trip I especially was constantly struck by all the memories each family member had of our original trip 17 years earlier. As we met with Italian family friends and went to our old usual places, I heard of some new story: when the kids snuck out at 5 am to jump through the fountains, or when my parents walked my stroller through a sidewalk of wet concrete, or when 3 Italian boys followed my sister home from the first day of school. It was never that they had forgotten those memories; it was that they had suppressed them.
Yet though those memories remained unopened for years, they remained nonetheless, like giant packages full of treasure but hidden under the bed. Intriguing what the human will can do, isn’t it? Yet when they saw old friends and old places, the memories flowed forth from them freely, and we were able to laugh and enjoy them all over again.
The characters in Black Rainbow strive to erase their past, a process they call “dehistorying.” The Tribunal has convinced the main character Phillip, and countless others, that it is absolutely favorable to simply not have history (or a herstory). “History is a curse, the Tribunal has ruled. We must be free of it to be. I believe them,” (21). They frame this argument by saying that by handing over one’s history, they are handing over one’s past sins and crimes. But the Tribunal even goes so far as to convince Phillip that memories are illegal. Yet though Phillip may think that he has achieved this task of erasing his history, both the book and my own family experience can attest to the fact that is absolutely impossible to do.
When Phillip’s wife disappears, Phillip claims, “he felt no loss,” (20). Though he consciously tries to imagine every memory of her gone from the house, including her fingerprints, he still cannot completely erase her from his memory. The thought of seeing her and his family again becomes his reason for the chase, his reason for living. He also frequently thinks about her when he sees, smells, or travels somewhere that reminds him of her. Like going back to Italy reminded my family of our year abroad, running the same route he and his wife used to take reminded Phillip of the time she was with him. He was given another woman who smelled, looked, talked, walked, and seemed just like his wife. Yet he did not respond to her like he did with his wife, because she was not the same person, and he could not entirely erase her from his life.
It is clear that Phillip cannot forget one’s history entirely. Like my family’s experience in Italy, there are still places, things that remind us of times and family situations past. His history, his wife, his children -- all these thoughts comes back to him constantly, because they are still intimately connected with him. For years, when my parents divorced and remarried other people and divorced again, it seemed my family tried to forget about those times in Italy, those times as a happy family with the six of us. But as we discussed in class recently, Marco Polo says that it is through the past that we know our present. It is our own history that shows us who we were and who we are now.
Phillip cannot forget the real love that he has for his wife and children. It has defined his purpose of life now; he is on a quest for his family, a family that is not with him at present. He is working off a memory of them. Though memories are illegal and one can try to forget them, this cannot be achieved entirely. Memories serve as active instruments in our lives. It can prevent us from making a certain decision in the present or help us to face the future. The past is what drives us forward to the present. As my parents can attest and Phillip unknowingly demonstrates, if there was something lasting or eternal in that memory, something like Love, erasing that is simply not possible.