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A childhood friend stays into my thirties and sometimes it feels like he is here to remind me of all the stories I have forgotten. Stories I should remember, stories that have seeped from me or perhaps were never stored to begin with. This night we sit at a lacquered table at the V & J Brauhaus sipping our German beers from tall mugs while he tells a story of us being robbed at knife-point. In his story, I am there but in my mind I am silently searching for this memory. Nothing he says triggers the familiar. I am lost to myself, I think. My stories are leaving me and I am lost to a past that has formed every inch of my conscience but one that I cannot touch my finger to and call into mind in order to address it face to face.
And it needs addressing. The hurt needs addressing but I cannot remember the moments. The abandonment needs addressing but I do not know when to look. The ultimatums need to be reconciled but there are no notes. And my parents need to be spoken to and held accountable but they are incapable of conceding. I am alone in resolving my pain and I suppose in reality we all are.
Two weeks have passed since that conversation and I am finding myself more and more desperate now to seek all the things I am imagining up that have been given away to absence. They resist me and I pry into everything to find them.
Another friend tells a story about her father and the wisdom he has instilled in her, flooding memories and the changes they create in the ways that she perceives her relationship with him. I want for these memories of my own, some moment where my father reached out with words of solace. Instead I have emails where he blames a seventeen-year-old version of myself for emotions neither he nor my mother taught me how to cope with, emotions they rubbed raw with their own fingers. His neglect sits at the table with these friends, and in place of sage words I find resentment festering to a virtual boil under my skin. The words, “I hate him,” slither back and forth across my teeth and fight to wriggle out. He does not belong at this table with other fathers who have sacrificed for their children’s love, for their children’s betterment. My parents do not belong at this table where love does not cast out children in anger, but reaches for them through it.
I have been told that in cases of severe depression, sudden shock or prolonged emotional trauma, the mind protects itself by not remembering the pain. Is it then, that I spent so many of my teenage years and twenties in such pain, that even faces have become muddled for me. I remember a moment, but not how I met someone, not how we grew apart. I see myself in a situation, but I don’t know the place, the time, the reason I’m there has left me. It is an insanely disorienting realization. And I wonder, if I forgot these people, these places, these memories that I took from myself, like a burden I tossed away, perhaps they do not belong to who I am now. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to remember.
But how can I tell stories when I don’t even remember all of mine.
In its devastation, I feel more alone than I have ever felt. I feel emptied of memories. An absent love, a desperate need and a vitriolic hate, have all turned my old stories to dust. I am like a stranger I must now get to know from scratch, like a foreign language I have no ear for, after so long.
The Whatsapp group is formed, I am added along with a bunch of people that have become the usual suspects for the Friday Night social. The instructions were, “Meeting at Shakers Bar for 8pm and onwards to Chill & Grill or Buzz and then to Katalyst or Paprika,” and I fade away into last week’s memory of sitting at a table of maybe ten people and saying very little while the banter went around of surface conversations about Carnival costumes and trips away and the next big party plans and the round of drinks we are about to order and how much money everyone needs to contribute to throw a big bram and… fade to black.
Silence. A strange silence has drifted over me the last few months. An awkward understanding of my disillusion, my disconnect, my distance from all these things. I am the stranger at the table that no one sees anymore. I am no one’s friend and no one thinks of me as more than a warm silhouette occupying a sliver of space here at this table. We are all silhouettes here. I’m not really all that different, except perhaps that my silhouettedness bothers me, makes me feel insignificant and wasted. It is the wastedness that bothers me the most. It is the desire to not be wasted that drives me further into my seat at the table and then suddenly, I have slipped through the rattan backing of the chair, dripped slowly down the back legs and trickled away.
But no one notices, because at these tables, in the shadows of loud, mindless music and superficial conversation, no one cares about each other enough to ask how we feel, are we happy with our lives, with our careers, with our families. No one cares about the other person’s personal growth or mental health. No one really notices anything.
So I disappeared quietly and have not been missed. In fact my absence has gone so unnoticed that I am still on the Whatsapp groups and the Facebook Event invitations. And in theory, I’m still someone’s friend and I’m still somewhere around. But there is no love here among these babbling strangers. And the waste has become insurmountable.
I see potential in contact now more than ever. I think of conversations and the intoxicating drift of knowledge and experience and life, from one person to the other and then I look for it at these tables and find it absent and myself even, not present here, and it feels like waste.
So I’ve let it go. The Friday night scene, the running after silhouettes of friends who vanish into shadows of old friendships, only to reappear when drunk, for brief moments and then they slip away again into the cacophony of silence. I’ve let go of my need to connect to old relationships, to try and persuade these strangers into something I can relate to again. It’s gone and what is left is sadness at the loss.
But also, there is growth. There is new space in me, for dance classes on a Monday night with interesting people and theatre lessons and time to read books and time to spend with those who actually ask me how I feel and give me the chance to actually answer honestly. There is room for new conversations and new emotions – there’s room for emotion – period. I feel myself changing into something curious and adventurous and experience-seeking. I feel myself growing. And it feels wonderful.
Because ever-so-often we need to re-pot the plant – give it new soil – for it to thrive.
I was never interested in what everybody else was interested in. I was very interiorized. I always felt kind of sad. – Tim Burton
To live a creative life, one must be prepared to look at ordinary things with an extraordinary eye, to challenge the self to seek out wonderment in the world. Took this photo at my Write Club meeting this morning. When I poured the milk into my coffee, I saw Tim Burton at work on my imagination. Cheers to feeling creative!