The other week I was flipping channels and watched a bit of Daniel Amen’s program on preserving your memory. He was talking about the importance of keeping a positive attitude and said that to elevate your mood you should attach your happiest memories to specific objects or places in your home so that, every time you looked at them, you’d get an emotional boost. I wouldn’t want to do that. My happiest memories make me sad.
I wasn’t yet 20. I had a short relationship, a serious one, with a guy who was a few years older. He’d previously had a reputation as a “flirt”, someone who made his interest in the opposite sex obvious. Girls liked him too; he was attractive and had an easy way about him (he’d even dated my good friend). Some years earlier, when I was both inexperienced and somewhat geeky still, he’d focused his charms on me one day at the community pool and I’d been very flattered. A few years had passed and by the time we dated, I was far more my own person and could meet him as an equal.
In those years he too had changed and in fact, had recently found religion. What this meant was that religious and philosophical discussions were in heavy rotation between us, which was fine by me since I loved spirited, intense conversations. However, I’d had it with organized religion by that point in my life so dating a born-again was a challenge. That said, I definitely cared for him. There was a warmth and sweetness to our relationship.
Part of his new beliefs meant a drastic change in his sexual activity. Prior to seeing me, he’d been sexually active but now was invested in a chaste life, believing that sex was for marriage only. Kissing was about the extent of was on the menu between us. He was so devoted to his new life that he once asked me to wait outside his house while he showered and changed clothes so that the neighbors would not think we’d gone inside to have sex. I’m not kidding.
I think he believed that eventually I’d get onboard with the born-again thing. He talked about marrying me. If only I would convert. I met the religious people he’d begun following (a friend had warned me off, saying they were like a cult), but had no intention of joining them. They tried to “court” me but they were out of their depth as I wasn’t interested in joining a new religion of any sort and was quite skeptical of them. Once that was obvious to him, that I wasn’t going to start believing what he believed, he broke it off. I was surprised because it was sudden but offered no objection. If he wanted to stop seeing me, I wasn’t going to argue it. I was plenty tired of having the Bible quoted at me (I remember asking him to at least put it in his “own words” but he preferred to quote and proselytize).
Some months passed – no more than a year – and I reached out to him (and a few other people I had lost touch with). I think at the time I probably just wanted us to be on decent terms – which was likely misguided – but as a result we took a walk one day. Once we were in each other’s company, he made it clear that he interpreted my reaching out to him as a ploy of sorts to reconnect romantically. I knew he was the same born-again and while my motives might have been fuzzy at the time, it wasn’t to get back together.
After the walk we returned to my parents’ house (remember, I’m still in my late teens) and stood in the street talking, when out of nowhere he started tussling with me. He pushed me down onto the neighbor’s lawn and held me there. This was very, very strange. We hadn’t interacted like this when we were dating and despite the fact he was acting like he was “playing” it was clearly aggressive and didn’t fit the moment whatsoever. It was daylight out. My family was home. Neighbors were home. And I’m lying in the grass with this guy on top of me in the neighbor’s yard trying to fight him off. What was his intention? To humiliate me? To work out sexual aggression never realized in our chaste relationship? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. But I didn’t like it and I was pissed. I started kicking at him , saying “I don’t care if I hurt you.” Which was to say I wasn’t going to be sorry if one of those kicks hit him in the balls.
It probably all happened very fast (you know how time gets drawn out in certain moments, exaggerated; this was one). He let me go and I stood up and walked across the street to my house without a word. I never looked back. This tawdry little scene was the addendum to our relationship and the very last impression I had of him. It colored my feelings about the relationship we’d had, tainted it.
Fast forward decades. I reconnected with another person from my teens, one who had been friends with the guy I dated. We talked about this other guy (who’d apparently tried to push the whole religion thing onto him too all those years ago). He told me a story. Back in the day he and his girlfriend had gone to the beach with the future born-again. He had left the two alone to go do something (I don’t remember what; take a swim/use the restroom/whatever). On his return, his girlfriend confided that in his absence his friend had basically jumped on her. Nice fellow. Waited till his buddy’s back was turned and put moves on his girlfriend. It didn’t sound innocent or forgettable. It sounded, in the telling, all this time later, like an attack. I could tell it still bothered the man sharing it and at the time it happened it had affected his relationship with his friend.
Learning this, that my born-again had done the same thing, that is act physically aggressive out of nowhere with another girl, around the same time period, validated everything I’d thought about how he behaved with me on the lawn that day. I hadn’t imagined anything. It was disturbing and strange. At least at that time this repeated behavior showed something in his nature.
A couple years ago the born-again guy I’d had the relationship with so long ago had his daughter reach out to me on Facebook. He wasn’t on Facebook and was using his daughter to contact people. I didn’t know his teenage child – or until very recently anything about what he’d done with his life, including that he even had a wife and children – and she certainly didn’t know me or my history with her dad. In fact, she instead brought up an unrelated incident that had occurred with my good friend, prior to our relationship, a story my born-again apparently still found funny.
What I find funny, although not in the haha way, is what people decide, consciously or not, to remember or find significant years later. Yes, I’d been there and remembered well the incident his daughter related – one that had not been especially funny at the time nor to the main person affected. But I also remembered another one that this girl was sure never to hear, not from her father certainly. Had he really forgotten? Had it slipped his mind that the scene outside my parents’ house was the last impression he’d left with me? What if I’d said to his daughter, “Ask your dad if he remembers the knee-slapping time when he pushed me down and climbed on top of me on the neighhor’s lawn and I had to fight him off.”
I decided to answer the Facebook message because this kid, although kind of cheeky to approach an adult stranger in such a familiar way as she did, had nothing to do with my relationship with her father so long ago and wasn’t remotely responsible for his actions. After I replied briefly and light-heartedly to the daughter (who must have reported back to her father), she offered the family email so that I might receive their last “Christmas letter.” I didn’t follow up. I thought it was peculiar that the man I’d known was using his child to make contact with people from the old days and receiving the family Christmas letter sure wasn’t going to set things to rights. Her father eventually joined Facebook. He has not contacted me.
Note: Please forgive a short delay in responding to comments.
I’ve been thinking about how, when looking back at old relationships and experiences, certain memories are set out in relief. I’m not sure that I know when they’re occurring in the original moment that they’ll be the ones riding shotgun with me years, even decades later. Probably not.
The strange thing is how you have no real say-so about which memories will last. Even if I tried to remember whole relationships or events, everything said and done, I know I couldn’t. And moreover, it’s my unconscious mind that largely decides which memories will be saved and mentally re-lived in the future. And which will be jettisoned.
I find this kind of selective memory rehashing to be a by-product of all sorts of relationships, from family to friend to romantic. I would prefer to be able to remember more details, better chronology, and perhaps more of what I said/did – my focus is usually weighted on the other party.
I’d like to know how I’m choosing what to remember, especially when the results seem so haphazard. You’d think you’d remember the important stuff – and sometimes that’s true – but other times it’s random or seemingly inconsequential tidbits that stick around. Of course, ALL the memories must be in there somewhere, if they could only be accessed.
I’m always curious about how other people’s memories function too; everyone seems to have their own shtick and there’s no changing or influencing it. Saying, “How can you remember THAT?!” or “You remembered that wrong” both get little response. Or conversely, what it means if I’m the one sharing a memory, especially one seared into my recollection, with someone who was also part of it, only to have them stare at me blankly, clearly not remembering.
I do see one thing my memories are influenced by, and that’s my own personal changes. I recast specific memories. Not changing or rewriting them, but perhaps seeing them as more ominous or less dramatically, as foreshadowing subsequent events. The connecting-the-dots is more apparent after the fact.
I use this knowledge now. I am much more aware that I am creating memories with my actions and involvements. What kind of memories do I want to have in the future? And I don’t mean this in a greeting card kind of way: “Let’s create beautiful memories (together)!” Rather, a conscious undertaking of acting in such a way as to forge memories that will be good and positive, if I have anything to do with it. So that whatever it is that rises to the surface in those awake-at-3AM moments down the road, will be okay.
People like to say it’s the things not done that create more regret than those done. I am not so certain, not in referencing my own life. What you don’t do, or refuse to do/start, seems equally important. I say this with a chunk of life in the rear view.
What I’m trying to get across, in part, is my cognizance of the importance of memories and my awareness of my hand in creating them. Since I really don’t know which ones will be “set out in relief” in the future, I want to try harder to influence the results. So that my unconscious mind will have no choice but to select from a decent array of options.
It’s strange when you realize there are things, for one reason or another, you will never do again.
I’m physically strong for a woman and always have been. It’s something I took a little pride in; I liked being able to do things and not always stand off to the side or have to ask for help. “Let me do it,” was my go-to phrase. One time at a carnival, a midway booth was testing strength with hand grips. They had two, one for each gender. I surprised the attendants by testing past the top rating on the woman’s grip, so they handed me the one for guys, on which I scored “weak man.” (I could see it was a slur against men but I was happy to merit the rating.) In my glory days, I never did try one of those swing-the-hammer-ring-the-bell strength tests, but I secretly wanted to.
I can’t believe now, some of the physical tasks I used to do. I never hired anybody for any of my many moves; alone or with a few friends, I did it, hauling furniture, boxes, etcetera. I haven’t hesitated, when I saw a nice-looking piece of furniture by the road to pick it up and walk it home. Tables, dressers, a pine coffee table. For years, each season, I’d carry huge, old-fashioned window air conditioners – up a flight of stairs and back down. Again, I don’t know how I did it. They must’ve weighed 100 pounds or darn close, and given their sharp-edge boxy shape, were awkward as hell. The worry, in addition to losing a grip, was tripping over the stupid cord and taking a tumble, but I psyched myself up – you can do this! – and proceeded.
A couple years ago I managed to get a 6 foot long cherry wood dresser down a flight of narrow stairs. First I had to stand the piece on end to get it around a tight corner. There was a hairy moment or two when it got wedged against the wall part way down the stairs but was freed and it – and I – eventually reached the first floor unscathed. I knew that was the last time I would ever do a physical feat so extreme. I crossed a line. I was pushing it and my confidence in my ability to successfully pull off stunts like that was diminishing. (In this case, the imagined bad scenario was losing hold of the dresser and having it careen on down the stairs of its own accord, stopping only when it crashed into an immovable object such as a wall.) And I didn’t want to hurt myself. All my parts have a few years on them and they’re all originals. I need them to keep working. Never again, I thought.
I will never do a back dive into a swimming pool again, although to be honest, it’s been decades since I executed one. Still, for a long while, I imagined I could do one if I wanted. I no longer think any such thing. A back dive?! The hand-stands, which I never felt whoppingly secure with in the first place, are vague-ish memories. I do not expect to ever roller skate again, and ice-skating seems unlikely as well. I sucked at both, and my fear of falling, which rather impeded my crappy skills, I’m quite certain has not vanished.
I don’t know if I’ll ever go on a roller coaster again. I like amusement park rides but I never liked those. I remember just waiting for it to be over. Same for anything that turns riders upside down and/or suspends them in that compromised position. Or free falls, so that one’s internal organs feel as though they’ve been left behind. Never again.
If – and it’s “if” – I climb a tree again, I doubt very much I’ll venture as high as I used to. I get dizzy just thinking about far up I’d go, where a branch snapping, or a foot losing its hold, would have meant disaster. Besides, getting up there is one thing; it’s climbing back down that is the real pickle. How would I explain what I, a grown woman, was doing stuck up in a tree?! “I just wanted to see if I could still do it…” [Side story: I also liked trying to see if I could fit through small spaces. There’s a particular gate not far from where I live and not long ago I got tempted to see if I could squeeze between the rungs. It’s in a spot where people come to walk, run and bike, so I made sure no one was around before trying it. The mortification of getting myself stuck was definitely on my mind. I know exactly how peculiar a grown woman, who I dare say has been described as looking “elegant,” “sophisticated” and lord help me, even “glamorous” would appear doing such things in other people’s eyes.]
I will not be wearing a tube top again. They were never good news in the first place, providing no boobage support and constantly needing to be yanked up. Same goes for strapless dresses lest they have built-in structural features to keep them where they belong. It’s been a long time since I had a strap-less dress and any I previously owned were the keep-yanking-’em-up variety. Never again. I still wear short skirts and dresses, since I’m lucky to have the legs for them, but I’ve got limits now, or rather the hemline can’t be too limited. Sexy is one thing; foolish is another. Same goes for any apparel with kittens, monkeys, cartoon characters, or any other childish accents. No more. There will also be no big bows in my hair or on my clothes. Small ones – I do so like bows! – maybe.
Are there things you will never do again?