Saturday, January 23, 2016

Looking Back

Castaneda Hotel awaiting renovation

December 24, 2001 I was hit by a drunken skier while teaching a lesson at Angel Fire Resort. Prior to that day I was known for my memory. It took me a while to totally know the depths of the loss that day. I was thrilled at first that I had only lost three and a half hours of time. Later, when I passed the short term memory tests, I was elated. Except for not always knowing the right word at the right time my mind seemed fine.

But recovery from a closed brain trauma is a very complicated thing. To stay sane I concentrated on the positive, and practiced what I did not want to lose. Unfortunately I was not really aware of what I had lost. Largely I do not miss what is not in my head any more. At least until I am confronted by friends or circumstances with the reality of what is gone.

Last weekend I was in Las Vegas, New Mexico with an old friend. She was driving and we went to places in Las Vegas I did not remember. She talked of adventures there she was sure she had with me. I nodded and took pictures. It was a fun day in spite of this nagging feeling I had forgotten something very important. And, now as I look at the photos I took, and remember the day, and the stories she told, I just want to cry and I do not know why.

Memory is a tricky thing. It is details hung on context and shored up with emotion. You do not know what it is you have forgot until someone or something triggers what I call a shadow or ghost. A fleeting image of a place or thing or a joke shared. And like ghosts and shadows they can vanish as quickly.

Frequent readers of this blog will know I have developed an affinity for Las Vegas in the last few years. I seem to be drawn back there to take photos and walk the streets. If I had the money there was a building I wanted to buy and refurbish.  I never questioned why I felt so much loss when on my next visit I found it had sold.

I know I have fond memories of Las Vegas. In what seems like a snippet of a dream, I remember hanging out a window of the Plaza Hotel and waving to friends in the Plaza below. The building I wanted to buy is right across the street. That memory is from before I knew my travel companion of last Saturday. It was from college and the days of hanging around with the peace corps volunteers training at UNM. We went to Las Vegas to have Thanksgiving with the contingent to Ecuador before their departure. They had been training at Anton Chico and Villa Nueva nearby. They would be off to South America after Christmas. But there is also more sadness than just a last holiday with a group of friends.

Plaza Hotel Windows

I know it is not my only time in Las Vegas. I have no doubt I have soaked in the hot springs with my friend Dianne. She remembers it well. Doesn't understand my blank stare and silence. Maybe now that I have absorbed enough details, and some of the context the memories, more will come back, and I will only have to rearrange them so they make sense. 

I know I have been in the lobby and dining room of the Castaneda Hotel. I hear music when I look at the photographs I took. I so wanted to break in and walk through the lobby, but just took pictures of the outside. And maybe it is about ghosts and my wild imagination. I didn't miss the memories when I did not know I had lost them. Now they seem a hole in me. An abandoned room with one dim light.


  1. I share your sadness for your inability to recall certain parts of your life.That's a hard one to have to deal with. But at the same time, after such a terrible experience in which you could have been killed or worse, in a coma and brain dead, it is good that you do remember a great many things. I say `worse` because I believe being in a coma with no hope of recovery is worse than physical death. I know someone who has been lying in a coma for weeks and there is no brain activity. A wonderful woman with a love for life that is hard to match. Another, for the last three years and now a brilliant 17 year old who has been in this state since the 27 December.

    I totally understand your feeling of loss but at the same time am so glad that you are alive to tell the story.

    1. I feel so awful for people trapped in limbo. That must be what hell is. Contrary to Catholic teachings I believe strongly in reincarnation and the release of the spirit from its earthly journey to begin another. I even reversed my feelings about organ donation after watching a rescue crew work on a body for over an hour so his organs could be harvested.

      So I agree comas are worse. I and my family had to make the decision to let my father go. That is probably a whole blog.

  2. This thing ATE my brilliant comment.
    I mostly agree with Bea's thoughts on the subject. If I didn't have my own memory issues I could have just rewritten my comment.

  3. With some notice, we can get you into the Castaneda. Praying for your memory and your sadness...

  4. Sidetracked Charley, what a wonderful "Word Smith" you are. I am proud to have grown up in Las Vegas, NM with Vivid memories of many of the grand old buildings that have made up the town. Many of which have long gone. The Castenada especially means much as we used to enjoy Rodeo Dances and much party time in Late August each Year. The Celebration of The Rough Riders Reunion was such a treat to all the great folks of the Las Vegas and surrounding community. Thank you for your pictures and words.

  5. I shared your special story with the fans of Mary Colter and Fred Harvey and it was very well received. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on one of our favorite destinations. Kathy Weir and


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