A friend of mine I’ve known most of my life once told me I tend to live my life in boxes.
She didn’t mean it in an accusatory way—there was no chastisement attached; she was just making an observation. And when I thought about it, I realized she was right: Whatever constitutes my life at any given time, I live in that box and nowhere else. Everything is in there, self contained: job, friends, mindset—all related—and all with sole influence over whoever I am at the time and whatever life lesson I’m learning. I throw myself into that box wholeheartedly, and I don’t look beyond what I’m doing right then.
And when that phase of my life ends, as it always does, I pack up the box, close up the flaps, tape it shut, and shove it away into my memory, which of course bears a remarkable resemblance to the government warehouse in the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don’t look back (as far as anybody knows), I don’t get nostalgic; I remember the time fondly (or not so fondly) and move on to my next box, which I throw myself into wholeheartedly once again, with equal intensity to the previous box, soon to be matched in intensity for the following box.
Okay, enough about boxes. You get the idea.
I’ve never had a problem with living my life that way; I’ve always felt that when I’m done with a phase of my life, it’s okay to let it go. I learned whatever I was supposed to learn, or I did whatever job I was supposed to complete, or I helped someone I was supposed to help—I completed whatever task was required of me and I was free to go. You know—kind of like Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap. “I’m done; can I leap out now?” Mmm…Scott Bakula…
Wait. Where was I? Oh yeah.
But lately my past has been catching up to me, in the form of LinkedIn and Facebook. Basically, certain friends from my past are better at keeping up friendships than I am, and they cajole me into joining these networking sites with them, where I end up looking at a list of names from high school or college or some other past era of my life and muttering out loud, “Holy CRAP!” as the memories come flooding back.
Yes, these people are forcing me to get out a matte knife and rip open the boxes of my memory, and I’m not entirely sure I feel comfortable doing that. But then, when I ask myself why, I don’t really have an answer. After all, these ghosts from the past aren’t malevolent. I don’t have any monsters in my closet that I’d be traumatized to face in the light of the present day. My life, overall, has been pretty mild. (Hence the reason I never have any good material for a book; have you seen what passes for confessional pseudo-fiction these days? Good grief, am I the only person on Earth who hasn’t had a life filled with physical abuse, incest, drug addiction, insanity, or making and losing $100 million within three wild and crazy years?)
So what is it, exactly, that makes me nervous about recalling the past with others instead of just in my own head? What makes me feel creepy about sending “Hey, what are you up to these days?” messages to friends I haven’t spoken to in decades?
Ah. It’s because I haven’t spoken to these people in decades. I get it.
These people are great. We had some wonderful times together—they made me laugh, I made them laugh (hopefully), they were there for me, and I, eventually, wasn’t there for them. I shut them up in a box and closed the lid. I never bothered to keep them in my life—I put them away with all the other memories. Once I was done with them, that was the end of it. So when I should have stayed in touch, I just…didn’t.
And now it’s not them who are coming back to haunt me—it’s my guilt that’s nattering at me, demanding to know, in a quiet but incessant, pestering, raspy voice, why I didn’t bother to try to keep these people in my life. If they were so wonderful and I appreciated them so much, why did I not make an effort to keep them around?
I don’t know the answer to that. It’s not that I don’t remember them; quite the contrary, I remember everything about them.
- Going out for pizza with high school friends, stealing red plastic glasses from Pizza Hut, acting goofy.
- Getting way too drunk in college and rambling nonsensically as we stumbled back to the dorms in subzero temperatures, stopping to catch our breath several times in our climb up Cherry Street, which, we’d swear on our shot glass collections, was pretty much a 60-degree incline.
- Working with my fellow “apprenti” at a local community theater (“This is a bird’s skull, isn’t it?”), driving home late at night after the play was over, having philosophical discussions in the dark, stopping on the side of the road to marvel at the aurora borealis…it was green that night.
- Collecting evidence proving that the level of insanity of anyone who comes into a retail establishment will be in direct proportion to the strangeness of the hat he or she is wearing.
See? I remember everything. Well, I think I do. And then a friend from nearly 30 years ago sends me a message on Facebook: “Remember the time when…” and I don’t. I don’t! My friends have other memories that I have forgotten, while I likely have memories that they have forgotten. And it occurs to me that we all need each other, if only to bring our memories to the party, fit our pieces into the puzzle to make it complete.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s the inundation of networking stuff bringing more people back together, but suddenly I’m realizing that maybe I would have done better to integrate all the phases of my life, or at least allowed them to overlap, instead of keeping them in their little compartments.
A couple of weeks ago the weather was bad, so my mom went on a cleaning binge because she couldn’t work in the yard. She’s pretty much wiped out anything that’s not essential in her home—she’s not sentimental in the least and wouldn’t have a clue as to what this blog entry is about—but she found two boxes of my stuff and told me to go through them to see if there was anything I wanted.
I spent two hours digging through the most mundane stuff—ribbons from high school, a note from a former friend folded up tidily in a note-passing origami shape perfected by middle-school girls in the days before texting, corroded jewelry, and hey, my Pet Rock! There it was!
I threw out the corroded jewelry. I packed up the note, the photos, the concert ticket stubs, the memories…and the pet rock…I took them home with me. I kind of like going through old boxes all of a sudden. Looks like I might be doing more of that in the future.