“The term nostalgia describes a longing for the past, often in idealized form. The word is made up of two Greek roots (νόστος nostos “returning home”, and άλγος algos “pain”), to refer to “the pain a sick person feels because he wishes to return to his native home, and fears never to see it again”. It was described as a medical condition, a form of melancholy, in the Early Modern period, and came to be an important topic in Romanticism.”
Last week my friend Marlyn, after reading my blog, asked me, “How do you remember all of this so well?”
I had to think about this for a few moments before I replied (fortunately this conversation was being held via Office Communicator–our company installed this last year to increase productivity and/or allow gossip to spread more rapidly). My explanation consisted of two points. For one, I have a really amazing memory….well, an amazing SELECTIVE memory. I can’t remember names, dates, or phone numbers. I never have any jokes to tell because they slip out of my mind as soon as I’m done laughing at the punch line. And I frequently find myself introducing myself to someone that has met me three times before. But I will never forget a story that someone tells me, no matter how trivial or dull. So it stands to reason that I can clearly remember my own stories.
But the second point is far more important to the stories I have been sharing recently: After Dylan was born, I realized that I was starting to forget Ryan’s face. My mental photo was becoming blurry around the edges. I could describe his eyes as “green,” but I could no longer see the particular shade of bluish green. I knew that someday Dylan was going to have a million questions about her father. And if my memory continued to fade at this rate, I would have nothing left to tell her. I was constantly frustrated as a child by my mother’s inability to tell me anything about my own father. “What was he like?” were answered with vague statements like, “Well, he was really charming.” And that was it. No elaboration.
So I decided to get really serious about saving my memories of Ryan and our life together in Chicago. I wrote everything in a huge sketchbook. It was in the most random order…one page would read “He was disgusted by smoking and he ate a ridiculous amount of garlic,” followed by an anecdote about a mid-winter trip to Michigan, wherein his dog Sadie jumped into the hot tub on the porch, making us both laugh hysterically for the next ten minutes, stopped only by a run down to the lake to splash cold water at one another. I drew diagrams of our individual apartments. I began to add profiles of all of our friends and acquaintances. “______ agreed to forgive Ryan on the condition that he buy 14 cans of whipped cream for him. They went to the bodega on Chicago Avenue, because it was 4 am.”
This book is long gone, destroyed by a broken pipe in one of our apartments in Portland. But it doesn’t matter…now the stories are permanently ingrained in my mind. I can still picture every detail of Ryan’s apartment. I can feel the dust on the windowsill in my own bedroom on Paulina Street.
I have worried for a long time that I would develop a sentimental, idealized view of Ryan and our relationship. For a while I definitely thought of him as the best boyfriend I could ever have. Everything else would surely be anti-climactic. My mother once tearfully said to me, “You’ll fall in love again, but you’ll never love anyone else as much as you loved him.” I did not question the wisdom of this statement. But then…I started to remember all of the fucked up, hurtful moments.
The time he said to me in the car, “You’re going to end up either dead or in an mental hospital in the next five years! I can’t believe that you are trying to tell ME how to live MY life.”
Biking my pregnant ass around Wicker Park at 3 am, looking for him because a friend had called me to tell me that he was at the Lava Lounge looking really fucked up and incoherent.
A late night phone call. “Every time I said ‘I love you,’ I was lying to you.” This was about five seconds before I semi-intentionally overdosed.
And on and on.
Nothing was perfect. Nothing is ever perfect.
My friend Corye and I recently discussed the intoxication of one’s first real love. The consuming sweetness of it all. The almost hysterical tone of it. The dark underside of fear. I loved Ryan so much, it made my mind sick. He was a really amazing person, but he was also terrible. Flawed and perfect all at once. He could make me feel invincible and unstoppable..and then suddenly pull the rug out from under my feet with the greatest efficiency.
I will fall in love again. I have fallen in love again. The difference is not in the degree, but instead it is this: I am longer consumed by it. I cannot/will not allow my love for someone to destroy me. I no longer look for someone to make me happy. I have realized that I am responsible for my happiness.
The stories I am sharing with you…the pictures I am painting…they are as accurate as I can make them. All events really happened. The most important dialogue is real. The characters all really exist. Perhaps I can tell these stories so precisely and truthfully because I have no longing for the past. I am not interested in returning to those days in Chicago. Even the most beautiful moments had an undercurrent of pain, sadness…the foreboding of impending tragedy was always there.
In retrospect, everything played out the only way it could.