Tuesday, August 24, 2010

what remains?

These past two weeks feel taken out of order, somehow---an odd chance to revisit the past, to try and pull it into the present, to re-evaluate some choices.

I realized that I was carrying this odd belief that the life I left behind on the east coast had gone on without me. I imagined the farm, my friends, continuing as ever--only without me. I think I was vaguely resentful of this; I felt slightly displaced, as though my life had never fully arrived here, as though there were aspects of myself left in other places. I felt stretched-out, as though too much experience, too much moving around, had left me less.

After my brother's wedding, a blur of cooking, handshakes, mosquitoes, hurt, heat, rain, heartbreak, and love, I flew north to visit old friends. Zoe and Sarah were in boarding school with me, and something about having known each other in that time of hormonal intensity fused us into a friendship that distance and time seem powerless to weaken.

We travelled together to Sarah's family's isolated cabin in upstate New York, a cabin outfitted with a wood-fired sauna and perched on the edge of a spring-fed pond. Zoe and I had brought along love letters from our first loves; Sarah had old photo albums and sketchbooks. We dove into a few days of committed, deep nostalgia. We WALLOWED in it. Taking breaks for saunas, feasts, swimming, and naked photo shoots (a guy's fantasy of what women do in the woods, right?!) we tirelessly worked and reworked the past, evaluating first love from every possible angle, exhaustively analyzing the mistakes and motivations of our earlier selves.

Nostalgia can certainly be hypnotic, but one can overdose. I discovered this on the third day, when suddenly my brain balked at the bittersweet what-ifs and demanded to go swimming. I borrowed a bike and followed the verge of the road down to the river crossing, collecting armfuls of queen-anne's lace and tucking it into my hair; gathering handfuls of blackberries and cramming them into my mouth. The river was crowded with tight knots of young people in scanty swimsuits, building their own nostalgia.

I picked my way upstream until I was alone, then stroked out to the middle of the river and spun, looking up at the eastern sky, blurring the horizon with the water. I swam for hours. I dove deep below the surface and hovered in the coldness just above a spring, letting my mind and body go quiet.

Sarah and Zoe had made their way to the river as well. We stood in the water, looking at each other, laughing. We are still here.

Some days later I stood in the field of the farm that has loomed so large in my memory, the site of so many important choices. At this farm I first learned to be still from time to time and listen. I learned that I am more than what I do. I held down my first real adult job. I felt myself to be one of many fellow travelers. I experienced my first real, full love.

All of it is gone now. The barn where we ate and danced is padlocked, filled with boxes and old rugs. The fields and orchards are overgrown in sumac and goldenrod. The little hut I lived in for several summers has fallen in on itself. No one was left, of course. They had all moved on long ago.

What I felt, oddly, was profound relief. I no longer had to carry this around with me. It was gone. I could let it go.

On the plane home I felt hollowed out, as though much of what made me up was memory, memory that has been cleaned out and washed away. There is room, room to fill with the only life I ever had, the life I am living now.

I have learned that I did not make a mistake coming to California. I have learned that memory reinvents itself daily. I have learned that there is nothing better than a good friend--one who, by knowing us, by watching our changes, provides an anchor in the ceaseless change.


  1. I just dealt with this very thing when I was in New York. I've been putting off writing about it. Very lovely and thoughtful writing as always, Dweller! Welcome back!

  2. Wow, ditto & ditto! I'm recovering from confusing parallel realities & dreamy, bittersweet Minnesota orbit. It was a magical time capsule, during which I faced former selves and found out I can still be friends with those friends I wished I had more time to get to know once upon an adolescence. It's a relief, an affirmation (of something??), and a challenge to me.