The other night, I found myself in the most unlikely of places: In the back of a car with my boyfriend whom I dated in high school…..
It was late at night, and as the car wound its way through the streets, his face flickered in the glow of blinking streetlights. When we stopped at a red light, he leaned over to whisper in my ear. “I don’t love you,” he said. “And I never have.” Then I woke up. It was all a dream. But as I went about my day, I remained haunted. Why did my subconscious want to tango with someone I haven’t seen or spoken to in many years?
Joan Didion is one of my favourite writers. She wrote, “We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” Even though I agree with Joan, this point has never been my strong suit.
My past selves were sometimes mortifying. They wore strange outfits and said awkward things, then staying up too late worrying about it. They sometimes made errors in judgement that, while necessary for learning, I would rather not relive. But lately, in these months spent largely at home, I have been forced to confront them. My brain replays the old memories like syndicated reruns of a show. For me, this pandemic has resulted in a surge of vivid, bizarre dreams due to changes in stress and activity, sleep patterns, and pretty much every facet of my life. Long-forgotten memories resurfaced. Some nice, some bad. They appear not only when I am asleep, but often in the midst of some innocuous, everday task. Obviously, this pandemic needs to be over.
My former selves have a lot to say, and as it turns out, they have not gone far. For example: While I waited for a cup of coffee in front of my coffee maker I had a flashback to the coffee machine and its similar sound at the police academy’s cafeteria. The flashbacks of the things I did, said, and the things I wish I had said to colleagues. To the boss who could never find the stapler. Another boss who threw things and screamed at me. The job I quit too soon. The job where I stayed too long. There is a lot more where this came from, but I will leave it at that.
These memories are inside me like a matryoshka doll. The more time I spend with my past selves, the more I discover that embarrassment runs in both directions. I not only uncover old disappointments, but also old dreams. Things I wanted but was too afraid to try. My younger selves demand to know what happened, and I have no suitable response. I decided the only way out is to confront them. I began keeping a notebook. If the memories can live on paper, I thought, maybe they won’t feel the need to run around my head. Sometimes, I feel lighter. Other times, I feel like I have immortalized the very thing I wished to forget.
When writing fails me, I look around. Watch. Whenever I get too caught up in my own internal chatter, I talk to others and observe. I imagine what the people behind each mask loves, is stressed about, sad about, looking forward to. I bask in feeling both connected and blissfully, inconsequentially small. Everybody has shit to deal with. And it is interesting to hear and picture all the rooms and places these people have occupied. Where they have been. At twelve. At thirty. At fifty. Sometimes it would be nice to turn back time, albeit with the benefit of experience.
Even when it seems like the scenery is stagnant, I am subject to constant reinvention, like the annoying upgrades threatening to overtake my computer and phone. My former selves are here to keep me company because I made peace with my past. And most of the time I go about my days (and nights) without the shudder of remembrance.
So, coffee is what I will have. Here in my kitchen. Now.