Tag Archives: the past

what to do when old memories resurface

At night, thoughts just trickle down like raindrops into my brain. I really can’t control the onslaught, and I never know what form they’ll take from night to night. Last night, my thoughts turned to my year at Northwestern. It seems like an eternity ago, and I realized that I couldn’t remember a lot of peoples’ names. It was a relief, though, because most of them were people I didn’t actually know. They just knew the few people I did know, extending far out into the college life I never shared. I forget sometimes what a hard year it was. I’m honestly shocked that I made it through alive. At my worst, I had imagined crawling into the oven in the little kitchenette in the dorm room I shared with two other girls, and at my best, I successfully went to class, to the on-campus therapy, and check-ins with my hall director who needed to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. Even at my best, I was just surviving.

The thoughts of that year just kept streaming in last night, filling me up, like I was an inflating balloon. Chris snored peacefully beside me, and Yoshi had gone downstairs, so I couldn’t occupy myself with petting him. Instead, I went into Baxter’s room and lay on the sleeping bag I always kept in there for just such occasions. He wasn’t interested in playing with me, so I put him back in his house and lay on my back, listening to him rustle in his bedding and toilet paper tubes. With each breath, I tried to imagine thoughts leaving my body like air, as if I was decompressing from a deep dive. I wanted to become completely flat, even with the floor, and not swollen up with strange emotions.

Memories kept flying in, like the first week of living on campus where the college hosted an ’80’s costume party, and I sat watching three girls from my hall put their long hair in side ponytails, with off-shoulder sweaters and neon eyeliner, and the only ’80’s look I could possibly pull off was Joan Jett, because I owned a lot of black clothes and my hair was short like hers.

It’s so weird what comes up in the dark, with no distractions except the sound of a hedgehog drinking water. I kept picturing the little lounge area of my floor, Red Hall, even though I rarely spent time there. Then there was the “prank” some of the older girls played on the freshman when we first moved in, that there would be a table set up where any boys who came to visit would have to sign in. When they revealed that they were joking, it wasn’t really that funny, because we did still have to always keep the doors open if we had a gentleman caller, and they could only visit one day during the week. I truly can’t remember if it was part of the prank that we had to also hang little paper dolls on the door if there was a guy there, or if that was real. I knew that none of that would apply to me, prank or no, so it was a weird way to start the year.

Screenshot 2017-06-14 at 1.36.12 PM
My corner of the NWC dorm. That big squared blanket is now primarily Chris’.

That was also the year that I got really into charismatic Christianity. After one especially intense devotional session with one of the girls sharing her story of being abused, I started getting worked up during the prayer session, and when someone tried to put their hands on me to pray, I flipped out. I ended up being held down on the floor, growling. When I finally calmed down, I was exhausted, but didn’t want to go back to my dorm to my roommate who never came to the hall Bible studies, and who did not understand either my depression or hyper-spirituality. She might have been in a cult. The other roommate, who was more receptive and open, was out with her friends. I don’t remember if I talked with my RA about what had triggered the spiritual attack (panic attack, as I now know it was), but I don’t remember feeling safe or reassured afterwards. When I think about that time and my relationship with the girls in the Hall, I’m left with a big question mark. It feels like I bled all over the floor all year and everyone kind of avoided it. Occasionally, someone would ask how I was, listen intently, and I would feel better.

During the year, I felt like I had some allies in my battle, so when I decided to transfer, I wanted to end the year well. I hung out one-on-one with the girl whose testimony had triggered my attack, and tried to connect with her using the only spiritual language I really knew: charismatic crazy talk. I thought she would understand, but by the end of our conversation, I could tell she thought I was insane. I never saw or talked to her again. The older girl who I had met with during the year was nowhere to be found when I moved out, and when I texted her during the summer about getting coffee, she was always busy. My RA unfriended me on Facebook until I refriended her, and she accepted. We never spoke of why she deleted me. Unless I’ve forgotten about that, too.

I’ve blogged about these experiences before, and I’m not bitter or mad about them. It was so long ago, and so much has changed since then, I kind of feel like telling myself, “What the hell, get over it.” And most of the time, I am over it. Last night was the first time I’ve really thought about any specific memories in a long time, and I’m not sure why they just appeared again. Maybe because I’m starting this small group and on the threshold of new relationships with Christians again, and some old fears are trying to get back in, like bloated ticks eager to feed on my blood again. Vivid image, I know, but that’s what it feels like. So I lay on the floor in the hedgehog’s room, breathing in and out, until I no longer felt like my chest was going to stretch apart and my brain was too tired to absorb the raindrops of thoughts. I checked on Baxter one more time, who jumped angrily when I touched him, and went back to the bedroom. Chris was no longer snoring.

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9/11

ImageFor everyone who went to work on time.

For those who died in stairwells, offices, and jumping from windows.

For everyone who just happened to get on those planes.

For those who fought back.

For everyone who watched the towers crumble and crash right above them.

For those who ran away in time and for those who didn’t.

For everyone who put the lives of others before their own.

For those who could only watch helplessly.

For the wives, husbands, partners, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends.

For those whose lives changed forever in what seemed like an instant.

For everyone who has to suffer the consequences of the actions of others.

For those whose names sound different and whose skin is darker who are targeted by the fear and anger of ignorance.

For everyone who died.

For those who were left behind.

We remember for those who will never forget.

What Is Started, Must Be Finished

ImageWhen I was in high school, I signed up for a jazz camp at the store where I took guitar lessons. My teacher had given me the info and I was pretty excited about it. I liked learning blues chords and the improv exercises we had done, so a day camp-type of environment would be cool. Plus, I could meet other musicians. I had always wanted to be part of a band and spent a lot of time day-dreaming about meeting my music kindred spirits, writing songs, and becoming superstars. I was pretty nervous the first day, but I clenched my jaw and carried my white Fender into the store as confidently as possible.

Everyone there was at least four years younger than me. Most of them knew each other. I was the only guitarist. During our lunch break, some of the kids talked about walking to Target and when I came back from the bathroom, I was met with an empty room and saw that “some” had turned into “everyone but me.” I knew it wasn’t because they were actively rejecting me. They just forgot I was there. Like I was invisible.

When my mom came to pick me up, she asked me how it went. I burst into tears.

All my life, it seems like I’m always starting things I don’t finish. Jazz camp, law/mock trial camp, track, voice lessons, guitar lessons…it takes a lot of guts to just walk into something new and most of the time, just doing something for a few days is enough. When I was younger, I would dread waking up for something and even more dread telling my parents I wanted to stop. I hated being thought of as a quitter. I hated losing the money spent paying for things a lot of kids never would get to do. I hated the emotional pattern I was developing of starting and stopping.

That’s probably why the thought of delaying school is so terrifying to me. That feeling of failure, of weakness, the fear of facing my parents, my husband, the world, and saying, “I can’t do it,” has been haunting me childhood. I hear the mantra chant of “good people don’t quit.” Protestant work ethic and the American way. Good people face challenges and push through the anxiety and fear, and they’re better of for it. I went to gymnastics, piano lessons, recitals, talent shows, plays, horseback riding camp, sports, German language camp, and I grit my teeth and pushed through everything I could because that’s what people are supposed to do. Except I never felt better. It never got easier. It’s gotten worse.

I don’t blame anyone. I don’t blame my parents. They were doing what parents do and most of the time, these were things that I wanted to do. I just couldn’t do it and that hurt everyone. It still hurts me. I know it’s not good to linger on the past, and I really don’t, but sometimes, one of the ghosts of a dream flutters in and I wonder what could have been if I had kept singing, if I had kept playing guitar, if I had played softball. It’s agonizingly difficult to not despise the people whose dreams come so easily to them. I know people who have the talent and the opportunity and they just waltz into whatever it is they’ve always wanted. Their brains aren’t rattling their bones with fear, their lungs aren’t deflating like slashed balloons, their blood isn’t freezing in their veins. They don’t know. They will never know. That is what is the hardest for me to accept right now.