Sometimes when I least expect it a memory from my past will pop into my head like a little bubble. Sometimes the memory is fleeting and it’s gone in a second. More flashback than memory. But other times there are the memories that come front and center into my thought. They wind their way into my brain slowly unfolding a story from my past.
Some are bittersweet and some sad some make me cringe wishing I could go back in time and change them. Change what I did or said. I wonder if I did the opposite if I would be where I am now – married to Kevin, mom of three adopted kids, living on a little farm in Maryland…would I have had breast cancer if I had done something in my past differently. Would that small change have sent me on a separate life trajectory than I am now on?
It’s interesting to think about I suppose but we can’t change the past. And if changing one thing back then would change who I am married to or who my kids are or would mean I wouldn’t have the sweet dog that sits by me while I write -well then I guess I don’t want to change a thing even the regrets -except if there was anything I could change to not have had cancer maybe I would have done that. And there we go again- to change that one thing might have changed many things not just the cancer avoidance.
But some memories I would never change and when they pop into my head I run through them as best as I can trying to pull all the moments into my brain -trying to feel like I felt in that moment.
…I am in Cape May NJ with my Nana -I’m 5 or 6. We are out for our evening fun after having dinner in the hotel dining room. She puts me on a little ride in a tiny amusement park that we frequent most nights. The ride is a set of little boats that float in a little pool. They go around and around. I love that ride. Nana smiles and when the ride is over she takes my hand and walks me across the street to the boardwalk and we get ice cream or candy. The smells of Morrows Nut House permeate the air. I love that smell to this day. The beeps and blips of the nearby arcade call to me. She takes me in to play a couple games of Skee Ball. She plays Joker Poker and I watch -trying to understand the game. We walk back to the hotel along the boardwalk that front the ocean and I smell the salty air, I am tired. We cross the road back to our hotel -she helps me get ready for bed, tucks me in, and kisses me goodnight. I feel loved and safe.
Those beach memories with Nana go on for years. As I got older my younger brother joined us as well as childhood friends, Nana would sit outside the arcade and patiently wait while we played for hours. Sometimes she would come in and play a bit and then retreat for then retreat to sit back outside. In later years, she would stay at the hotel and sit with friends she knew from 30 years of staying at the same hotel – and let us go out alone with a curfew that we never broke.
Even as a teen when my girlfriend and I would head out to the arcade but would instead meet up with some boys we had met at the beach earlier and the would proceeded to spend a little quiet time on the beach we got back in time so as not to make nana upset. I can remember that beach night so well..hiding behind an overturned light boat on the dark beach lit up by the moon – kissing a boy who smelled like mint gum.
Nana taught me manners she told me her rules on life and she would sometimes gossip to me about people. She was a huge part of my life until I was 23 -the year she passed -1987.. There isn’t a day that has gone by since that I haven’t thought of her. There is not one memory I have of my time spent with her that I would ever change-even the times she got mad at me- which was rare but you don’t get an Irish woman mad..it can be brutal -especially the silent treatment – that could go on for days. But I can pull those memories in and live them again with her. I still miss her.
…Then there is the first time I rode a horse -I was 11- I fell in love. I can’t remember the horses name but I spent years going to that farm – I rode a bus out to a big farm in the country every Saturday with my best friend -Eileen- and we would spend much of the day learning to ride and we also took a barn class where we learned about the care of horses. We would buy candy for the bus ride home. That was back when I didn’t care about my weight yet – I was a chubby girl but could ignore the comments of mean peers- it was before my battle with my body image began. I loved that candy on that bus.
One Saturday Eileen got to bring home a young dog that had been found on the farm. Her parents said yes to letting her have the dog – they named her Duchess. I was jealous- I remember- but we had a dog -I just wanted more. A feeling I’ve had all my life and a dream I have made come true in my adulthood.
I remember sitting on the bus with Duchess up front and Eileen petting her head in assurance. I remember getting off the bus and Duchess jumped into the blue station wagin to begin her new life in the suburbs. Duchess was part of our backdrop until she became old and gray and her job was done. What a memory. Eileen is still my friend – the longest friendship i have had -of about 48 years- more like a sisterhood. There are so many memories with her in them.
…A Tom Petty song came on the other day and the memories washed over me.. I was back in high school. I was in a Ford pickup truck four-wheeling with one boyfriend in the fields that surrounded our town that are now giant homes or shopping centers. Then I am with first real love in high school in his Datsun, then we are sitting on the beach after prom with our close friends Debbi and Chris – we are drinking some beer and fighting about something. I liked fighting with boyfriends back then.
Then another memory… I’m in the car coming home from a REO speed wagon concert with four girlfriends and we flash our bras at some truck driving by. I remember closing my eyes and laughing in embarrassment and I recall the crazy freeing feeling of it.
…I remember meeting Kevin – my now husband- in 1981 when I was a freshman in college. We wouldn’t date or marry until 17 years later but I remember that first meeting and thinking he was kind of annoying. Never would I have given him a chance in 1981. So I am glad life to us on different paths until we both matured and I was ready to let a nice and solid human into my life.
…There is my wedding day where my hair looked awful. Surely if I could go back and make myself look better on that day I wouldn’t change the trajectory of my future too much would it? I was such a wreck that day. Kevin and I both not loving being the center of attention even in the small crowd that we had gather for the event. I woke in the middle after the wedding and ate some of,our wedding cake that the staff left in our room. I was really wishing I had said yes to some sandwiches that were offered in addition to the cake. In all my nervous anxiety I didn’t eat much during the reception. No wonder so many brides and sometimes grooms pass out on their wedding day. I was 35 and I couldn’t believe I was actually a Mrs. I never thought I would marry but always wanted to if the right person came along- and there was my new husband sitting up with me munching on cake at 3 am – a match made in heaven.
…Then there are the memories of adopting my kids. The first time I met them. There starting school, their soccer games , and school presentations. The years at the beach just being a family – the beach as an elixir for so much. We’ve marched so quickly to present day. There are so many mom do-overs I wish I could do. Parenting is hard and you do your best but I definitely have moments I’d like to take back and get another take.
For many years I went to therapy for my anxIety disorder. Early on I lived by my bad memories. I was so negative and I lamented about the hurts of my past. Things I wished I could change but couldn’t. I don’t like to say it but I did had a bit of a victim mentality back then. One day my therapist did some regression therapy on me. Kind of a hypnosis and we went back to grab some memories out of my past and as we went along memories of my Nana would pop up. All good memories that would leave me with a lifted heart when I came up from the hypnosis. I realized the that I actually had great memories from my past and I could pull those up as easily as the bad ones. As I practiced this over the years – on focusing on the good memories that came up and skimming over the bad ones I find I can’t recall as many bad memories anymore -especially the ones I held onto as a victim-the ones that held me back – the ones that even if I could go back in time and try to change them, it would be very hard to do bc it was the work of others that caused the pain.
I still have my plenty of cringeworthy memories where I made the bad choice -dating someone bad for me- saying something mean to someone – the ones that I wish I could change. But I’ve learned that it’s better to focus on the memories that lift the heart. Even the sad ones. …The day I said goodbye to Nana, the day we filed bankruptcy , the day my son was cut from baseball with only one other kid (that happened yesterday). Those memories are sad but they are peppered with love and learning . I am so blessed to have had a grandmother that meant so much to me to this day, I learned a lot from the bankruptcy and how strong my marriage is, and well maybe holding my teen sons hand while we both wept about his being cut from the team -maybe that moment is sad and sweet at the same time.
So when Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” or ACDC’s “Dirty Deeds” comes on the radio I am sure to have memory pop into my head that I will grab onto and try to feel that moment just for a minute. …I am with my friends at the pool where one friend is working as a lifeguard for the summer- we are laughing and smoking cigarettes and basking in the sun and the freedom of the summer -playing the radio too loud and annoying people around us. The radio echoing against the building that surround the pool. … Im singing at the top of my lungs with my husband and kids in the car as we drive somewhere. The kids used to bop along, then later they just cringed at our antics ..now they have earbuds in their ears listening to their own tunes.
I love living in the present but I admit that I am sentimental about my past because my memories hold so much joy along with some pain. It’s all in what you let in I suppose.
Not long ago we found a music toy that was given to us 15 years ago by a woman who cared for our son Luke when he was a baby -it hung on the crib so he could push the button and make the music play. I picked up the toy and it began to play (amazing batteries) and I was almost 15 year back in Luke’s nursery rubbing his leg as he was trying to get to sleep, then I was in our bedroom listening on the monitor as he talked to himself in his baby babble and hit the buttons on that toy and giggled as the music played and played. Nope – not a memory I would ever want to change and I am so grateful for the moment of being pulled back into those moments again to hug the feeling close again. The smell of baby and the memory of the simpleness of that time even with the fatigue and cluelessness of being a new mom to an 8 month old baby.
To me many of memories are a gift. Even the ones I’d like to change. They are the part of the threads that makes up my life. It is My story good parts and bad. I think I’m going to put on some Madonna or some Foreigner– or maybe some Kansas – oh those memories that the song “Dust in the wind” can conjure up.