Memories. They not only light the corners of my mind, they’re stacked so high back there, it’s like an episode of “Hoarders.”
Whether misty water-colored or neon bright, I can’t imagine throwing one out. Collectively, they represent who I am.
From the sepia-toned ones of growing up to the fond recollection of walking down the aisle — each moment, placed upon each other, tells my story. It’s an individual narrative we all have.
I feel great tenderness toward this memory business, aware of the offering they bring. A single one has the power to bring my mom back in a flash as if I’m sipping Lipton tea and looking into her bluest of blue eyes.
Another reminiscence and I’m living in the south of France next to the Marquis de Sade’s castle or I’m watching sea turtles swim like angels at a place of refuge, Pu’uhonua on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
Even remembering hardships reminds me that along with the travail came growth and possibilities.
These memories provide a literal lifetime of material, an internal streaming service with all the shows you want to see.
Indeed, there are days for all of us when our cache of memories seemingly sit back, all smug in their reflection, waiting, spring-loaded, to ambush us. It’s part of the bargain of having the power of recall.
Sometimes, the memory intrusion is simple, like when I remember flying first-class. It practically ruined the invention of flight for me. It’s a miracle that tin cans of people fly across the world on a daily basis, but take my advice and skip sitting in the front of the can. Once there, you’ll never peacefully fly coach again, where you’re handed a measly bag of pretzels while squished in with the rest of the commoners, all while knowing there’s hospitality and warm towels behind curtain number one.
Then there are memories of no import that pop up to embarrass us at random. I blush beet red when I recall running across a room into the arms of a dear friend, only to realize, while deep in the embrace, it was a stranger. It wasn’t awkward; it was creepy.
But it’s nothing compared to the tough memories that really have their way with us. Trauma, crisis and loss make indelible marks, especially when our minds replay them repeatedly. They can be tough to shake.
Another facet of this memory business is that we lovely humans tend to collapse our memory with the concept of truth. Many pointless arguments start by insisting who said or did what when. Letting go of our version of the truth might reduce the divorce rate and put a halt to the debate about who vacuumed last.
Even eyewitness testimony has lost the luster of its previous gold standard. It’s tainted by interpretation, environment and biases. Turns out not every detail of our memory is trustworthy. I’ll tell my sister this, as I’m pretty sure my hairstyle in the 1980s wasn’t that bad.
Some scientists suggest we can curate the memories we want to preserve, trimming off unwanted parts — that our brains are sophisticated enough to affectionately remember a passionate love affair, while subtracting the painful breakup.
But I have to ask: Isn’t the ability to have my heart broken what makes me human? Hasn’t it contributed to who I am today?
Pondering this, with the sun streaming through the window on a bitter cold day, I realize I’m making a memory right now. I think I’ll go back to hoarding and keep them all.
Carole Vasta Folley is a Vermont award-winning playwright and columnist. Contact her at carolevf.com.