By Tangopaso (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Darcy and I had a discussion about memory over the weekend. I am someone whose memory is prompted by places I go. I live where I grew up, and my parents were outdoorsy people. We hiked every weekend it didn’t rain, and if it did rain, we went somewhere whether it was a museum, the library or church. I like to go to the local forrest or lake. It reminds me of growing up and my parents and brother. (Both my parents and my brother now live across the country.) I also lived here for most of my battle through infertility so there are also some negative places in my neighborhood, mostly a local supermarket and pharmacy. I don’t like to go to those places. Once I had my kids, I tried to visit them triumphantly, to put the past behind me. It didn’t work. Mel has a great post about how she studiously avoids places where there are bad memories attached.
But I love bringing my kids to the local beach where my father and I looked for sand dollars when I was young, the county fair where I hung out as a teen and ate caramel apples and the pizza parlor where I played “Miss Pacman.” It makes me feel like I am revisiting my childhood, yet in a new, fresh way.
We went to the sand dollar beach over the long weekend, and I annoyed Darcy by constantly pointing to landmarks and talking about my past experiences. Around that bend in the road is the bird sanctuary I went to as a third grader, that beach house was the one my Dad’s friend owned, where we went to parties on the Fourth of July, that restaurant is the one where my mom let me order a Shirley Temple. Darcy has had some really exotic and unusual experiences: he traveled Morocco for a month by himself and almost got caught up in a smuggling ring, he went to Albania in 1994 to see for himself what the conflict was like and got mugged, he lived in Hong Kong for two years. Growing up, his parents took him to three star restaurants in Paris. Yet, he doesn’t remember those experiences that well. I really have to ask a lot of questions to prompt his memories.
So I feel silly talking about my tame, mundane memories, but they are very important to me. As I pointed to the bar seat at the restaurant and relayed how I once asked the bartender for a maraschino cherry to top off my shirley temple, Darcy asked why these memories were so necessary to me. We had both seen a “60 Minutes” special about a very small group of people who remember in agonizing details every day of their life: from the trivialities of what they wore and the weather to the emotions they felt when someone cut them off in traffic or when their boyfriend fought with them.
Darcy is unable or unwilling to use his memory to relate to places we have been to in the past. He thinks of memory as adding depth to life but dangerous: people can live in the past, and that is a dangerous place to abide. He pointed out that there have been artists who essentially stopped living, full stop, in order to recreate the past. Proust famously lived in a cork-lined bedroom room, blocking out all noise to mine his past in great detail, thereby producing one of the greatest works of literature. Have you read it? I read “Swann’s Way” during my early pregnancy with the twins (I had hypermesis and was bedridden), because I wanted them to be smart. Of course, that doesn’t explain my obsession with “The Hills” at the same time, but I digress. “Swann’s Way” was the only novel that actively changed the way I saw the world. The dreamlike, detailed prose prompted by “involuntary memories” was sublime, and yet real. In reality, our thoughts are rarely linear and move in and out of the past and present, while contemplating the future. Yet, Proust’s writing was not confusing like James Joyce. I hated “Ulysses.”
What was at the heart of this discussion is this: Darcy worries about me living in the past, not moving on from the negative experiences of infertility and miscarriage. I admit that I am worried about this as well.
Do you find yourself triggered by “involuntary memories,” whether it’s going to the local pharmacy where you bought pregnancy tests that turned negative, or by the taste of a spicy tuna roll that you ate on the night you decided to live it up after getting a BFN? Or the smell of a particular soap you used at your fertility clinic the day of a retrieval? Or seeing photos of a celebrity who was pregnant when you desperately wanted to be?
Would you rather give up these memories, or do they make you who you are?