On Memories and a Brief Sojourn to the Past

I’ve been in this room of ugly, black devotion once before – a room of exclusion, a room of a certain kind of self-righteousness. I’m better than everyone else when I’m in this room: my thoughts are deeper, my words more profound, my pain more worthy, and my intellect beyond comparison. When I’m in this room, I throw around words I barely understand, fully expecting my audience to eat them up in their own pitiful grasp of the true depths of the English language.

I’m not in this room at the moment. I’m reveling in the embarrassment I feel whenever I leave this room. Who am I to discount anyone’s pain? who am I to take such an arrogant stance? I want to be humble, I want to listen, I want to help.

I’ve visited the room of deep, black arrogance less and less as I’ve grown older. Maybe because my rotten brain can’t come up with words to demonstrate my preternatural grasp of the English language – because I don’t have such a grasp, those words have left me. They packed their bags around the time my memories decided to leave and there’s no sign either will be coming back to me.

From what I do remember, I must have been insufferable, and I want to contact those I shut down to tell them I’ve learned my lesson, I’ve learned even the most innate of gifts can be taken away from you. I read old journals and long for how I used to write and then settle for these words instead. I look at old pictures and I long for the days when I was always sociable, always friendly, always making new friends. But just like hindsight is perfect sight it’s also jaded by nostalgia – we don’t always remember the pain, the heartache just like we don’t always remember the joy and don’t always remember just how loved we felt in those moments.

My Swiss Cheese Memory remembers based on parti pris – I can remember the joy only when I feel that joy within me. I remember the pain and bitterness all too often because it’s so rare for me to feel otherwise. I tell myself to remember this phenomenon and always keep in mind just how fickle memory and perception are. I try to tell my brain to remember there were always good times and bad times, often within the same day. And I try to tell my brain I have a different perspective now – I march to the beat of Now. Now. Now. and any other beat leads me to that dangerous precipice which is hard to turn away from.

I look at that infamous picture of me – the only picture I want to be remembered by:

I’m three years old, playing in the park in my signature blue hoodie. Dad took the picture of me climbing a ladder made out of links of chain. The smile on my face is one of total satisfaction, of pure bliss – happy not just to be at that park but happy to be alive, to be in that moment. Dad says the picture perfectly encapsulates who I am – adventurous and happy, sociable and lovable. I look at the picture every morning and every evening as I take my pills. Counting them out to myself, I reach 50 pills and know I’m done. I swallow the majority of them in the evening and wait 12 hours to finish the rest of them off. I stand there taking pill after pill, punctuated by drinks of water, and I look at that picture.

Does the boy in that picture know what kind of man he’ll be in 25 years? Does the boy in that picture experience the same wild mood swings? The out of control, absolute bliss and the unquenchable rage fuming from every pore of his body.

I have no recollection of dad ever taking that picture. But I like to think I still have that three-year-old boy somewhere inside me. I just have to find him – I just have to contact him. Mental illness has made me rigid, has made me fearful and I don’t want that. I want to be that carefree boy again – playing at the park, ears kept warm with the hood part from which the hoodie gets its name.

I want to know what it’s like to climb that ladder without fear of falling and now I remember the other picture that defines my personality so well:

I’m maybe 8 months old in this picture, I’m crawling up the stairs in our old house. Mom is behind me with her hands poised to catch me should I fall, a look of amazement on her face and I can hear the tone of her voice, the inflection of her words as I climb up the stairs – pushing the limits of my clumsy, infant body. Dad is taking the picture – he seems perpetually behind the camera. I was much too young to be able to climb up stairs. But that’s me – testing the limits, always ready for an adventure, doughty, a person whose confidence brings myself to conquer new challenges.

And I realize this really is me – this months’ old baby surprising his parents with such a bold attempt to push himself to new limits. I stare around my apartment and think back to the time no one thought I’d have one. We’d all resigned me to living with mom and dad for the rest of my life, we’d resigned ourselves to my failure, failure which came through no fault of my own.

But here I am – paying rent on an apartment; sitting in my favorite chair, notebook propped against my leg and pen busily working in my hand.

I got up today at a reasonable time, I fed myself some oatmeal and coffee and set about to fill my day with productive things, eventually settling in to write this essay. Kerrin is sleeping in her bed near my feet and, in about 30 minutes, dad will come over, like he does every week day, and we’ll walk to the park to sit on a bench where I’ll smoke a cigarette and we’ll talk and talk until it’s time to go.

Maybe it’s a bit telling that we go to the park – repeating the same ritual we did 25 years ago when that infamous picture of me was taken. Maybe it completes some kind of circle and pays homage to the fact that, despite the cruelty of mental illness, despite the sometimes ugly, sometimes overwhelming personality changes, I’m still that happy, adventurous, and lovable boy I’ve always been.

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