I was perusing the interwebs recently, as one does when you’re in between semesters and have a temporary reprieve from crushing volumes of scholarly work, and I came across this:
For all of the things we can track these days — locations and activities and interests and website visits — the interior lives of other people are the last great frontier, aren’t they? It’s so easy to assume that we’ve been forgotten by old friends, excised by old loves, replaced in the lives of everyone we’ve ever known by newer, shinier people.
I make this assumption all the time. In fact, I would say that my default setting is to assume that, if we haven’t spoken in the past 48 hours, you have summarily cut me out of your life and no longer know my name. (It’s a very specific kind of amnesia I’m imagining!)
I’m not sure why I feel this way or make this assumption — one of many major character flaws — but the upside is that I’m always pleasantly surprised when I discover that this isn’t the case; that someone I knew a long time ago actually remembers that I walk the earth.
This happened to me recently. I reconnected by chance with someone I knew briefly, but fairly intensely, about 25 years ago. And lo and behold, my old pal not only remembers me, but remembers me fondly. (*Cue the “awwwww” chorus*) There’s even a chance our paths will cross in the near future.
That’s slightly terrifying, though, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but even still having both hands, I was a very different person 25 years ago: full of energy, more adventurous, better hair, smaller clothes, fewer scars, less jaded. I’m sure some things have improved — I’m kinder and more empathetic now, having been smacked around by life, and I have more faith in God (and a lot less faith in people), and I still have a love of adventure and want to have fun…but I also just want to ride shotgun while someone else drives, and sit on the couch and watch Lonesome Dove in companionable silence (but only to the part where Duvall loses his leg. After that, we need to turn the TV off and pretend Gus McCrae lived forever).
While some people — and again, I’m talking about Robert Duvall here — improve with age, the rest of us generally slide gently into some gray-haired, pudgy-soft semblance of our younger selves. And while we also typically outgrow our youthful focus on outward appearances and realize that what is valuable actually manifests in actions, not words or looks, it’s still unnerving to come face to face with a piece of your past.
That being said, one of the most interesting phenomenons in life is how we freeze people at the moment we meet them — or at least, at the moment our brain registers that they’re going to be important.
I’ve got a friend from elementary school who is lodged in my head as a fourth grader, at the very moment I slid into the desk next to him in Mrs. Moon’s class. He may age in person (and has, in fact, progressed from 4th grader to surgeon), but to me, we’re forever nine, and headed out to play tetherball. Another friend is stuck forever on the pool deck where I first encountered him as he walked towards his sailboat, despite the 40 years since; CM is still sitting behind me in the god-awful 8:00 am class, LH is in the alto row where I first met her, after being told by a mutual friend that we were so much alike it was eerie, and Matzo Ball has me forever sliding off my chair, in hysterics over the Posse Comitatus (that’s a story for another time!). When I see these people, no matter how much time has passed, I see them as they were the first time we met.
All of those people, and many more, wander through my head on a regular basis, because they’re part of the fabric of who I am. The idea of forgetting any of them is preposterous to me, because although I can remember meeting them, I can’t remember ever not knowing them. [One of the nicest things anyone has said to me in recent memory was when a friend told me that he couldn’t remember a time when we weren’t friends. How nice is that?! I got all teary-eyed.]
So this, then, is a love letter of sorts, to all those people I can’t remember not knowing and can’t imagine being able to forget! Thanks for being you.