Monday, December 30, 2013

Memory box

Jeffrey was cleaning the other day and asked if I wanted to keep an invitation to a baby shower. The event had long passed; the baby had been born, and I had already gone to see the new little family and sniffed said newborn's noggin with abandon. I really couldn't think of a reason to keep the invitation, but I didn't want to toss it either, so I told him I'd put it in my memory box. He paused for a beat, then asked if that was a euphemism for something. 

It's not. I have memory boxes scattered throughout the house. They're full of pictures, old date books, articles, cards from friends, any little snippets that I liked. The main one is just plain corrugated cardboard, and I go through it maybe once every few years. It's painful and embarrassing to look through, but I keep it just the same.

I've been wondering about this practice lately. Not about it as such, really, but about the way I think about the past, specifically things I've done wrong. I'm a regret hoarder. I know the arguments against such nonsense, and I've spouted them plenty of times (sorry!): If you make a mistake, you either had bad information or a bad decision-making process. If it's bad information, you can't blame yourself; if it's a bad process, you can work to change it. I know. I get it. But I've never been able to do it.

True story: In second grade, our teacher used a sticker program to motivate good behavior. Sitting down quietly after recess and the like. And a few friends and I, who were the good kids and who would have had the most of these stickers anyway, gamed the system. As the year went on, we were the ones trusted to hand out these stickers (circles, they were called, since they were the cheap little round labels you'd get at an office supply store), and each of our friends would get more than one. So at the end of the year, we ended up with a really insane number of circles.

But here's the actual crazy part: When I was a senior in college (so, 14 years later), I wrote to Miss Randle about it. And this was before the internet had really come into its bloated own. I tracked her down (on paper!) and came clean. I never heard back. 

So that's the kind of person I am.

Facebook has made this act of leaving the past in the past even more difficult for someone like me. I somehow believe that if I become friends with someone now, I can undo whatever we did to each other in the past. For years I looked for a kid I knew in second grade (a troubled year, now that I reflect on it) who I think had a crush on me, because I wasn't very nice to him. Seven, I was when this happened. And you know? This year he tracked me down. I apologized right away. And he didn't remember any of it.

So here I am, carrying all of these things around -- things that I've done wrong, things that other people have done wrong -- and is it worth a damn thing? I could argue no, but I still do it.

I think, by extension, I do the same thing with relationships. A few years ago, I was chatting with a friend from college about how much I missed our other friends from college. I was lamenting all I'd done a lot wrong, and how I'd fucked up those friendships. He told me something that sort of rocked my world: Relationships have an arc. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. Like everything else. Some are longer, some are shorter. Goddamn it if he wasn't right.

I had just never thought about it that way before. I just figured, when you know someone, you know them forever. The idea of having someone I *used* to know was completely foreign to me. You may lose touch, but how can you actually not know someone?

But I'm starting to understand, finally, that that is not the case. That we can have endings to relationships and be OK. 

Someone recently unfriended me on Facebook. We didn't have a ton in common, but we knew each other a long time ago. And there are tons of people who won't accept my friend requests -- people who had been really important to me at one time. And you know? It's taken me a long time but I finally understand that that's OK. There are relationships that are open, in which both of us float in and out of touch for decades. And these are just not those. It doesn't change the fact that they will always be important to The Story Of Firstname Lastname. But their narrative can be written in past tense.

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