Memorization and Forgetting

Every year around this time begins a series of events involving some of my friends from high school. It starts with a mid-November fête at my friend Ethan’s and ends with a Boxing Day party at my friend Chrissy’s.

I feel fortunate that I’ve kept these friendships for as long as I have…some of them going on 30 years now. There’s something to be said for having people in your corner – who aren’t blood relatives – who’ve known you through adolescent awkwardness and teenage awkwardness and early adult awkwardness yet still invite you to their parties, because they love you in spite of it all.

Ethan’s party was on Saturday night. Chrissy was there. We talked a lot about memory. This is obviously something that is more or less always on my mind, caring as Coombsie and I do for someone with Alzheimer’s. My mother-in-law is still mostly “with” us, and can engage in simple conversations, but names and places and vocabulary are slipping away from her. And yet sometimes she can bring up things that happened decades ago with stunning acuity. This is one of the perplexing things about the disease. As she ages physically, mentally she is getting younger.

In an odd way, I relate to this. Chrissy and I talked about how comparatively little we remember about our twenties and thirties when weighed against how much we can recall about being teenagers. Granted, in MY case I kept thorough, detailed diaries as a teenager (which is why I’ve fared so well in my “second career” at Mortified Boston), and the reason I don’t remember a lot of the 90s was because I was a raging alcoholic. But I think there’s a divine spark that burned the brightest at 16. It’s why I become stupidly nostalgic whenever I hear “A Sort Of Homecoming.” It’s like someone reaches into my chest and gives my heart a little squeeze, and I know that if I looked into the nearest mirror, I’d find my teenaged self staring back. There are times when I am not entirely certain I am anything BUT that awkward, hyper kid in Drama class who followed the upperclassmen around like a well-meaning, but slightly obnoxious, puppy.

Except I am. On paper, anyway. I’m married and gainfully employed and have a nice house with a yard and furniture I didn’t put together with an Allen wrench that came in a little plastic baggie. All that stuff that I really did WORK for, but seems to have appeared out of nowhere sometimes. You know – how did THAT happen? Last week I could’ve sworn Chrissy was taping balloons to my locker for my birthday. Now we’re standing in Ethan’s living room talking about real estate, and relationships, and…RECIPES. What. The fuck.

It can make you feel really old if you let it. I’m mostly choosing not to.

I said this last night (and I’m pretty sure I’ve said it here): I don’t mind being 42. And I meant it. I’m not going to lie about my age, or go to extreme measures to look younger than I am. I EARNED my forties. I think it’s fucking fantastic that I’m this old. Do you have any idea how many chips were stacked against me?

Something else I’ve said: I would not go back and live through my twenties again if you PAID me. Perhaps I was cuter, more lithe and lissome, able to fit into smaller sized jeans. But the reality of those years outweighs the cosmetic considerations. I was mentally ill, self-medicating, and searching for someone to “fix” me because I’d lost the ability to do this for myself. The things that worked for me at 16 had been replaced – drowned, effectively – by coping mechanisms that I thought were more sophisticated. Thank god I couldn’t handle all that sophistication, and had at least a shred of good sense enough to realize it.

There isn’t much sense in lamenting my “lost youth.” Could I have spent my twenties more productively? Absolutely. But the fact that I spent them undiagnosed, untreated, unwell, and essentially rampaging through people’s lives like Godzilla through a cardboard Tokyo, is not something I can change. But the collected experiences of those years have taught me a few things:

  • I can’t drink alcohol.  Like…AT ALL.
  • I have to take medication, as prescribed, because if I DON’T, I am crazier than a rat in a coffee can.
  • It is not the job of the person with whom I am sleeping to read my mind, “fix” me, or even figure me out.
  • If I act like an asshole, I have to apologize.
  • If someone else acts like an asshole, I cannot expect an apology.
  • Self-created drama will give me more of a hangover than any drink(s) I imbibed between 1989 and 2002.

If I can remember these things, my life is – oh god – SO much easier.  I can deal with the extra 15 or so pounds and the age spots and the onset of jowls if it means I don’t have to cross the street to avoid people, because I’ve either pissed them off or slept with them or both.

More importantly, I’ve been able to salvage what was lost from all those years of drinking and behaving quite abominably.  At 16, the thing that invariably made me feel better was performing.  I am back into that with a vengeance.  I lost my way, big-time, but I’m making up for it now.  It’s a lot harder to memorize lines, though.

And when I run into someone from high school and they tell me “Oh, you HAVEN’T CHANGED A BIT,” I can smile and say, “You have NO IDEA.”

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