Slouching Towards Remembering

“[B]ut something has been bothering me and as I fiddle with the ignition I finally ask. I ask them to think back to when they were children…”  – Joan Didion

by Manraj Johal, Senior Editor

Photo Source: (Experimental Spaces #9 2015 by Thomas Friedrich Schaefer)

My memory cannot afford to buy innocence: it is a stubborn stain and no matter how long I scrub my hands under the running faucet, purity refuses to be washed away. This is memory: I spread my materials out over the coffee table to craft memory in the only living room I have ever inhabited, to then hide it under the stairs as I turn off the lights and walk out the door; it is left unattended in an empty house. I am simultaneously convinced and troubled by the idea that I have plotted myself on the point titled ‘innocence’ with the x-axis tilted nostalgia as I enter another stage of this life, a stage when being young is no longer the only thing I know and am. This will terrify me in the years to come, but for the moment, this fear is forgotten. As of now, I am simultaneously convinced and troubled by the idea that I have remembered my life wrong and will continue to do so in the future. And this is the shadow stuck under my heel: that there is nothing worth remembering at all.

Let’s entertain this hasty attempt at linear algebra. I suppose nostalgia, ducking over its shoulder, looks all the way to its favourite toy – childhood – to meet the gaze of innocence. It’s quite a Romantic notion that every step towards progression is born from the permanent longing to return to a simple beginning that ends the moment one becomes aware of it. I am having trouble figuring out this purity partly due to my refusal to accept it. I find no satisfaction in wearing innocence as a jumper, bound to be stained by the inklings of my own, others, or the grand capitalist system I am merely a cog in. The colour of the jumper fades after I toss it into the load of laundry, and when I finally muster a bit of courage to have its fabric stretch over my skin, I struggle to tug the collar over my head. A prerequisite of a lifted hand is not required to blot my cheeks red: when you’re young, embarrassment is the most intimate violence. The whines for an innocence in motion, threaded from the premature bloom of a cotton plant to cocoon me for eternity, morphs into a continuous silent scream. It’s ridiculous. Follow the wavelength: you’ll find the hiding spot of a seven year-old-girl I’ve grown out of and back into.

This is also a problem, I don’t entirely remember this childhood mysticism.

I don’t mean to dispel the only magic left in the world nor do I think it does not exist – any immunity that I have built up over the years begins to crumble in its centre by purity’s charms. I know the spell has been cast when I wave back to the toddler leaning out of its stroller at Christie Pits or when I shovel the elderly lady’s driveway as December 2022 and myself decayed into the new year, when a friend shows me a picture from when she was a little girl or when I harbour a particular tenderness for someone I imagine as their  sixteen-year-old self, still uncomfortable in their newfound height. These all move me so much – the quiet dampness on my cheeks is proof. 

I say that I wouldn’t want to go back to childhood when I hear others say it, but I realize now I have misspelt fear. Being a child seems so terrifying now that my limbs have stretched out. I’m sure the air of innocence invaded my senses, but I don’t remember breathing it in. The pictures from the disposable camera my dad used to haul around, the pink armadillo tucked away in my closet, the intelligible journal entities — all these artifacts taken out of their display case is what I idle over, attempting to “figure out” what exactly happened when I was a child.

In her essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem,Joan Didion keenly lays out her memories of Californian Sunsets peeking through the valley oak trees as she re-visits her hometown, San Francisco. Didion wafts through the hazy heat from the summer of love that has dazed the flower-children. Her pen follows their steps of progression all the way to the welcome mat of innocence’s home, wiping the mud off of their shoes as they wait to be let in. I chew on her words until my teeth are gnashing together – I don’t want to find fulfilment from an event constructed from memory.

What I remember from earlier years is the feeling of being small. Everything was a bit too high and it seemed that on the walk home from school, my bag was a bit too big across my back and the silence with my peers was too loud for my ears. I felt that the knots in my stomach sunk me with the purpose of making it easier for the world to swallow me alive. I was so, so, so scared: I couldn’t say what was happening — I didn’t know or have the right words and now, I’ve only grown into my fear; I wear it like my favourite sweater. It took awhile to admit this: I am still scared. I know I am when I struggle to put myself to bed and crawl out the next day and can barely let others look me in the eyes.

How do people do this every day? How do they carry their memories that are constantly on the verge of decomposing their past selves, their childhood, all of their potentialities, everywhere they go, without collapsing? It wasn’t until I was hanging upside down on the monkey bar alone at Wellesley park that I vaguely recalled stumbling into sleeping bodies on the way here. I should have laid down with them.

Where does this leave nostalgia’s graph? Didion writes in her essay “On Keeping a Notebook” that to prevent the ghost from your past from lingering in your doorway, remember them through writing. Share: it hurts to remember alone. I can give them to others to take turns making memories. When spring finally blooms I’ll get it right, this time around I’ll understand, this time around I’ll be able to remember by giving this to you: make of it what you will.

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