Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mountains and Memories

As a child, I was constantly writing. I think that is why my memory of events is so good, I was always writing things down, re-living them. I was always looking for outlets for my huge wells of emotions, so I journaled and wrote stories constantly. Last week, my mother dumped a box of my things in my living room and in there were about fifteen notebooks. They ranged in time period pretty radically. Some went back as far as to me being fifteen years old and they stretched into my early twenties. I found a first draft of a paper I wrote on "The Color Purple"- the book, not the movie, when I was sixteen.
I knew I loved the book, but I did not realize how strongly and how personally I connected to the character. I mean, in a way, this is how I understood her. I wrote powerfully about the character of Celie being like a black hole, taking in everyone's abuse and swallowing it into herself. I didn't even know I was writing about me in there.
I saw this profound connection to this woman who I should have no connection to, but this speaks directly to the power of Alice Walker- that book transported me beyond time and color.
Then I began to read the letters and the random diary entries. I would write in anything. If I had the need to go deep within myself, I had to write it immediately- there are diary entries everywhere- there are long and detailed letters I never sent of how I felt about relationships, most of the letters are to guys I was dating when I found it impossible to convey my feelings verbally. These remind me of Celie's letters to God in a way...but only in the sense that they both exist in letter form.
I was so much smarter than I knew I was.
I was so afraid to express how smart I was to these boys.
I dumbed down who I was. Not to the point that I completely suppressed it, but to the point that I was never allowed to be utterly and truly myself.
And in these letters, I knew clearly and succinctly what the problems in the relationship were and I expressed them over and over just trying to be heard. When I finally found the courage to say some of these things out loud- well that was when the abuse began in earnest.
I was being controlled by their addictions. At one point I wrote a long piece about how it was okay when he was drunk one way but when he reached a certain point it wasn't safe anymore, he would become nasty tempered and awful. In some way, I thought if I could just keep him from hitting the tipping point between happy and violent, things might be okay.
I remember being afraid when one of my boyfriends would buy a certain kind of alcohol- I knew that increased the likelihood that I was going to end up being abused verbally, probably physically, but I knew the evening wasn't going to end well. Not that you can ever predict anything like that. But I always tried to look at reasonable outcomes. I also knew that if I left him, I couldn't protect him from what he might do- that if I was a casualty of the evening, at least it was only me. It occurred to me that eventually I was just trying to survive the relationships like I was trying to survive growing up with my father.
It's been a long time since I have lived in this kind of tyranny.
I hate it, in a way that it hurts so much to look at it and remember how much time I wasted being washed over by him of the moment. It makes me physically hurt to go back and read the raw and painful emotion that I was in.
There is one letter I wrote where I am literally begging a boyfriend to come back to me because I was alone and pregnant and I couldn't take one more minute of the misery and pain and could he just come back and take it all away, that I would forgive him anything if he could just relieve this pain.
I am so glad he didn't come back. But I want to put my arms around that child and tell her it will be okay, that it will be for the best some day that I survived that emotional storm, that I went to the bottom of that ocean and felt it all and I came back up and was this stronger, and more wise human being than I ever could have imagined. It's hard sometimes when I read those letters to be grateful for that pain- because sometimes it's just a memory, but sometimes it is right there.
That's the way with the past, isn't it?
One of the more interesting discoveries was the stories in those notebooks, some half there, some fully complete. Two stories I have no memory of writing whatsoever. How odd to find things in my own handwriting that I know came out of my brain that I wrote and to not remember is bizarre. That is completely rare because I have such good recall. I remember most of my stories. Though I have to admit, some people that I was writing about in my diary I have no recall of who some of those people are any more!
If I remember more than most people, how odd it is what I forget. What is that mystical part of memory that we lose? Is there some sort of brain organization that says "Eh, I can let this one go."
I have this really detailed and extraordinary memory. I can go back and remember what I was wearing during a certain fight I had with someone and sometimes they are meaningful memories and sometimes they are ordinary.
When I was five years old, I remember imprinting a small memory and promising myself to keep it forever. It was a simple thing, but simple things can be mountains to five year old children. I can still recall that simple moment as if it was yesterday because I told myself to remember it forever. Even as the smallest child, I had the biggest ambition wrapped in the most fearful package. I knew then, as terrified as I was to even speak to a stranger, or raise my hand in class, I knew then I had a lot to overcome. I remember sitting in story hour in kindergarten, we had a guest reader that day and she had these beautiful, shiny black shoes. I was sitting about two feet away from those shoes, thinking intently about my future, I suppose I could not have been listening to the story because I was mesmerized by those shiny shoes.
I can't reason this out because I was five when I thought it, but I decided that if I could get myself to reach out and touch that shoe, then I would be able to do anything, to conquer anything, to achieve whatever I wanted to in life. Ha. So, after a few minutes of screwing up my courage, with my heart pounding in my ears, I touched that shoe. The woman didn't even appear to notice, so lightly did I touch it, but I can feel it on the tip of my finger still.
Whenever anything feels large and overwhelming to me, I remember to know my limitations and I remember that I touched that shoe. I overcame whatever I needed to overcome that day and I told myself to remember it forever. It's as simple as allowing myself to reach out.

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