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17 October, 2011

A cow, a dollar bill, and a memory of the past

A red wooden pedestal, measures approximately 2.5" x 1.25" x 0.5". Rising up from the pedestal is a thin red post, about an eighth of an inch in diameter, and 3" tall. Atop the post, a quarter-inch thick wooden cow, white with brown spots, black eyes and hooves, and a black nose. Skewered by the red wooden post, a single dollar bill. It's upside-down, so I cannot see the vintage. But if I lift it up, and examine the other side, it reads L-series (meaning it is from the San Francisco Mint), serial number L86314752M. Series 1995. Robert Rubin was the U.S. Treasurer at the time. But this is not the first dollar bill to grace this ornamental and sentimental object that I have had in my possession for 25 years, and about 5 months. The first dollar bill to grace the cow remained in its throne from 1986 until sometime, I would estimate, in early-1998. The one that is presently in its place has likely been there since. And there's a story behind that, but I'll come back to it.

The "Cow and a Dollar Bill" (as I have always referred to it) came into my hands from my sister, when I was in the hospital, recovering from minor surgery that had been the result of a car accident. It was just a silly gift. That's the kind of person my sister was. Funny, random, clever, sarcastic. It was not something that necessarily needed to have any significant meaning, but it ended up having very significant meaning because I attached the meaning to it. I am not sure if the cow traveled with me to college, or if it remained in my bedroom at home. It's been too long for me to remember. But the cow traveled with me to Seattle, where it now sits in front of me.

So why did it have so much meaning? Well, the events that wound me up in the hospital, which I will not share here because they're not really relevant to the story at hand, led me to do some existential and philosophical pondering about truth, honesty, life, and the importance of many things. Somehow, because the cow and its dollar bill showed up in this time window, I ended up making a proclamation: The day I need to use that dollar bill is the day that I know that things have become really bad. Or, the flip side, I'm never going to use that dollar bill, but I'm going to keep it right there on this cow, as a reminder of what it is like to not be in need, and to keep the entire ornament with me everywhere I go, as a reminder of the same.

Yet, you might ask, "What happened to the dollar bill that was on it originally?" (which I might note, was tattered, and very fantastically antiquated, even though the currently positioned crisp bill has actually been "in office" for a longer period of time; I guess the original must have started off in a more worn-out state)

That, too, is a different story and, as it turns out, the bill was not spent in a moment of need. Rather, it was something I chose to release, in a moment of what I had believed to be personal growth and "letting go" of the past. It was donated, in a sense, to a cause that I briefly believed in, but ultimately to which I did not cling. In fact, one of my slight regrets in life is that I parted with that dollar bill when I did.

Sadly, the cow and the dollar bill have come to take on a new symbolism. And the loss of the original dollar bill feels eerily poignant. See, my sister who gave this to me is not the same person she was, just as the dollar bill is not the same dollar bill. She's had a neurological condition for most of her life which, until recently, did not have any noticeable cognitive effects. But in the last 5 years or so, she's unfortunately undergone a gradual decline in her cognitive abilities, particularly when it comes to memory and analytic reasoning. It's been significant enough that she is now really not the same person she was for most of her life. She doesn't really engage with people anymore, and is uncomfortable in situations where it is necessary. Her long-term memory seems to be well-preserved, but she has difficulty forming new memories. She's withdrawn, and sad. She's somewhat aware of the loss that she's suffering, and that probably makes it even worse for her.

When I look at the cow and the dollar bill, much as when I look at my sister, I am reminded of the person who gave it to me, and everything that she represented in my life. But when I see this imposter dollar bill, not the one that my sister gave me, I feel like something is lost, and I know that it can never be regained.

One thing that troubles me is that, while there's no way I can ever imagine myself parting with the inanimate reminder that I keep, I have already distanced myself from the person of whom I am reminded because, while it's possible for me to look at the cow and the dollar bill, and have everything it has ever been and ever meant evoked in my mind, the same is not true for my sister. Communicating with my sister now reminds me only of what is lost, and what she is no longer, and will never be again. I feel like she's gone, but she is still here. And I have a hard time with that. I suspect I should probably be trying to make what connection I still can, while she is still here at all, rather than lament what is not. I am a little bit afraid of that. I think it betrays a problem I have with mortality. I'm trying to deny it. But as I come of the age that more and more of those dear to me will become frail, ill, or die, it's going to become increasingly unavoidable. I need to face it.

Perhaps I should see if she remembers the cow and the dollar bill.

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