The Memory Palace

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WWI Memorial, I.

They moved the river when I was a teenager.

A large public works project that I first saw in “someday the city will like look this” illustrations in the Providence Sunday Journal when I was boy, change the course of the Providence river. They dredged the channel. They removed a road that covered it up (and that I’d always been told was, technically, the widest bridge in the world). They gave it a left turn into a basin, around which they put an amphitheater, and in the center of which they put a slightly anemic fountain. It was the kind of Big Public Works Project that is nearly impossible to get done these days without graft and corruption.

Luckily, this was Providence, Rhode Island, a city in whose veins graft and corruption run like coffee milk.

And, truth be told, the river looks great now. Urban renewal through aesthetic revival.

Anyway, one night, between my freshman and sophomore year of college, a high school friend and I were walking around downtown, exploring the construction site. She and I were extremely close back then. We’re not now. No story there. Just the way things go. The next morning, she and I were going drive to my ten year old Chevette across country. It was to be a Great Adventure (and it was). It was to be a friendship cementing experience (and it was, for awhile). But that night when we were walking around we came upon the city’s memorial (1929, granite column, carved stone at the bottom representing the different service branches, female embodiment of Peace on top) to the 612 young Rhode Islanders who’d died fighting World War I.

It used to be in the middle of a roundabout in the middle of the formerly-widest bridge in the world. That night, they were nearly finished moving it to its current location in front of the courthouse. They had dug a trench underneath it into which, I assume, they were about to pour a new cement foundation for the memorial.

So my friend and I took pieces of paper and wrote messages on them to commemorate the night, and that moment in our lives and in our friendship. Words that we wanted to live by. And we threw those messages into the hole beneath the WWI Memorial so they would be sealed underneath forever. So our young selves would be memorialized there too.

And I have absolutely no idea what I wrote.

Published On Nov 02, 2010

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