Footfalls echo in the memory

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
~T.S. Eliot

I’ve been in a weird, funky place for the past few weeks. Not depressed, because I’m not sad. But…stuck somehow. It’s almost as if the combination of enough REM sleep and not enough Adderall has served to open up a few paths in my mind—some of which could have very much stayed closed. My tendency to think in pictures, coupled with a few random trips to my old hometowns, is sparking things in my mind and those sparks are starting to singe. Sparks of the people that were integral to my little universe, those people now lost due to time and circumstance. People who helped shape the adult that I am now—both the good and the bad parts.

Most of the memories aren’t bad, just wistful. Stupid Robert Frost and his overused “road not taken”. Stupid Facebook with its friend connections. Reminders of choices, both the purposeful and the accidental, that led me to where I am now.

Sitting on the couch, writing…wishing…and feeling like something is trying to tear out of my skin.

The effort to neatly compartmentalize my life, to put experiences in their own little box and revisit them without longing, to remember the past with fondness rather than regret, is my own personal hell. Part of my own control-freakishness, I suppose. I want to be able to say that I’ve lived a life without regret, but that would be a stupendous lie.

I regret lots of stuff– situations that were both in and out of my control, bad timing, the loss of important personal relationships, unrequited loves (I fell in love a lot…sigh), and decisions that I made—or were made for me—that inexorably changed the entire course of my life.

As a general practice, I try not to spend too much time in my own head—it’s not always a good place to be. I prefer to stay on the surface of my head, to look for happy rather than crappy. My head-place is being particularly demanding lately and I’m getting annoyed with my own subconscious. Enough so that I decided that just getting it out will help me move on. Memories are the past, yes. People should live in the present, yes.

But that isn’t me, not really. Maybe it’s the ADHD; the 3 days worth of clouds and rain; the oldies station playing songs from my childhood (when did Snoop Dog become an oldie) but lately I’ve been stuck either reflecting and projecting more than just being here. I have dozens of impulsively-made decisions that represent my own Robert Frostness, if you know what I mean. For example, if I hadn’t quit the Navy, I wouldn’t have met Joel. If I hadn’t met Joel I wouldn’t have the kids I have now. If I hadn’t accidentally gotten pregnant with Zach, I would be doing something completely different at this moment in time, for without Zach there would have been no Elliot.

It’s those events—like that accidental pregnancy that irrevocably and irretrievably altered the course of my life—that I pull out most often when I get all pensive and wistful. If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, would Joel and I still be married? We were, at the time, struggling with our married identities. I worked too much, the entire definition of my being tied up with my work identity. It wasn’t healthy for me—for anyone around me, really. I remember being restless then, too. I remember being wistful.

Right around the time I got pregnant, we had decided to sell the “big house” (because what do people without kids and dual incomes do but buy too much house?) and move. Where we were moving was undetermined. I wanted out of NC, to satisfy my wanderlust in a major metropolitan area, like DC. I distinctly remember saying “dude, I’m going. You can come with me or stay here, that’s up to you.” I think he had decided to follow me for once (I followed him right out of college). I think we would have stayed married. We might have even had kids, eventually.

But I don’t know.

Then fate or biology—depending on my mood—intervened and we became parents. We moved to Raleigh when I was 7 months pregnant thus every memory of this town is tied to a life with children. Raleigh is nicely compartmentalized in my parenting memory box.

But my memories of Durham…where I was mostly free (note I said I worked too much. Work was, I’m sad to admit, my only real hobby). I also partied hard with really awesome people. My life was intertwined with some of the most brilliant folks I’ve met to date. Existential conversations were the norm—and had nothing to do with diapers, potty training, or formula vs. breastmilk.

Being with those people at that moment changed me, forever altering my perspective of the world and my place in it. I miss them. I miss my old life. I miss the parties (but not the hangovers); I miss playing air hockey at Club Hell in Chapel Hill; I miss long afternoons at Café Driade; I miss smoke breaks behind the dumpster; I miss having someone to edit my reports (I especially miss my own pride at watching my grammar improve—bet y’all do too); I miss having a giant house; I miss the adrenaline of deadlines; I miss the challenges of projects above my head and ability.

Mostly, I miss the ability to be selfish.

For everything I named above I can give an equally compelling “I don’t miss” example. I’m perfectly capable of objectively accepting that life wasn’t full of roses and champagne at the time, but even that isn’t enough to assuage my current yearning.

I don’t feel guilty about admitting what I miss, even as I realize that to wish for a do-over is to admit that sometimes I wish I didn’t have kids (GASP!). Or that I wasn’t married, with all of the responsibility that is inherent to both stages of life.

In reality, I wouldn’t go back, even if I could, because I love my children, my husband, my new friends and am thus mostly content in my life.

In reality, Zach will say something silly, like “mommy, you can’t walk around with a scratchy butt”, or Elliot will bring over his Apatosaurus and loudly yell “meow” (he thinks cats and dinos are related somehow). Laughter will subjugate my pensiveness. Tonight I will dust off the Ipod, play my “oldies” as loudly as I can and run myself to exhaustion, kicking those endorphins into gear. I will…get over myself.

But seriously, what a pain in the ass growing up is turning out to be.

7 thoughts on “Footfalls echo in the memory

  1. Ooohhh…I love the idea of being able to make life a binder–that would be freaking awesome. Especially if I could use those nifty colored index tabs…and page protectors.

    Sigh.

  2. It’s amazing to me how you empty the contents of your head onto a piece of paper (or a computer screen) and the contents flow into something so distinct yet highly relatable…so articulate but yet so raw.

    Our lives are books. Pages are in place and the words and pictures are added every day. Wouldn’t it be great sometimes if our lives were binders instead? We could add, delete or change the order of everything inside without affecting pages that we don’t want to change. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all given a chance to step back in time, see what would have happened had we not taken this class, that job, kissed that person? The present has a way of pushing the past to opposite ends of the spectrum. I think it has to do that to make room for the present; doesn’t the present typically register somewhere in the middle of the two ends?

  3. “you might have become a marathon-running vegan studying the works of some guru”

    Oh, Kimberly–that almost made me spit coffee on the computer! That’s awesome…and I’m glad my kids saved me from THAT. 🙂

    Jennifer-now you know why I stay up until 1am (or later)–so I can watch Law and Order without interruptions.

    Stacy-Joel’s reaction was to say, “wow, you made people cry. Nice job.” Then he agreed with me…though he wanted to go back to senior year of college (but of course, because that’s when he met me!)

  4. OK … the thing to remember is that your memory of the time is static … but it would never have stayed the same even without that accidental pregnancy. Your job might have changed, your friends might have moved away (or done the kid thing themselves), you might have become a marathon-running vegan studying the works of some guru. I have rosy memories of many of my friends living in Durham and how we’d get together for dinner and movies and gaming until 5 afterwards. But even without me having a child, they were going to move away and have their own kids anyway.

  5. Well said, Stephanie. All of it. Right down to, “What a pain in the ass growing up is turning out to be.”

    We always counter our wistfulness with…”Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom and a wife…” But the truth is, it’s really hard. I don’t think I realized quite how hard it was going to be.

    Some days I truly yearn, yes Y-E-A-R-N, for my tiny, one-bedroom apartment. Where I woke up at 9am and had a completely blank slate for my day. I could veg and watch Law & Order reruns ALL DAY if I wanted. I didn’t have to answer to anyone. Or be committed to anyone. It was just ME. I didn’t have difficult decisions to make, didn’t second guess myself on parenting choices, didn’t worry about whether or not I was being a “good enough” wife.

    Just know that we all go there every now and then. 🙂

    And P.S. The “scratchy butt” comment cracked me up. Don’t get it, but funny nonetheless…..

  6. on a day when i’m wondering why the hell i let myself get tied down to little people with so many needs this post is right on the money. after i stopped crying i smiled.

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