They gathered at the house in the woods. Three women, friends now for nearly twenty years. They had met in high school – still children, really – but when they remembered back, it didn’t seems so. They seemed always to have been marvelously the same as they were still.
In the time since then, two had married and both were now going through divorces. One was in The Relationship – the one of love stories – beginning with an avalanche of “yeses” and proceeding then as a journey, two people in tandem, assured at least of this: the rightness of the other’s presence at their side. Of the other two, one, newly independent, burgeoned with fresh-minted freedom and the world abounded with opportunities for creativity and intellect and adventure, which she was ready at last to relish, steadied as she was now by the two young sons she had to raise. The third had lived for many years with a penchant for breaking away – from relationships, from places, from fixed definitions of any kind – determined to discover the span of her wings. Her life did not lack for lovers and art and doing as she pleased but lately the free sky had begun to feel empty and she found herself wanting for something else.
They gathered, these three women, at the house in the woods. It was a moment separated from the rest of their lives. It was something to remember, and they knew it. They recorded it on camera so that later they would remember it right: the warm grass and the pure skies, the loons in the morning and wood thrush at evening, the rush and pull of river current, the cool silk of the forest lake and the sensation of touching water-chilled skin to sun-soaked rock, the fresh summer corn, the peaches and steak, the bouquets of Queen Anne’s lace, the sauna stove purring and purring, and the pleasure of being naked together and at ease.
They laughed, they discussed – and they reminisced.
Two had brought with them letters written to boy-loves of years ago. These two sat in the library in the glow of the lamp and read them, meticulously. They read as if excavating for something. They paused to analyze. They identified how they’d felt then and they turned those feelings over and over examining them in the light of the present.
The third found herself uneasy. She retreated to the kitchen and did the dishes loudly.
But the temptation was great. Eventually she was in the library too and out came the photo albums, long avoided.
It was as terrible as she’d feared it would be. What those pages and pages of pictures recalled was not incidents that had happened in the past, but feelings. Feelings that, like prehistoric fish frozen in a lake, re-warmed to the exact shape and size as when locked in. And now here they were, revived to a terribly vigor, lurching out of the albums and flopping up a great mess in the library.
Nostalgia is terrible! All this remembering is bad! she cried.
Some years ago, almost all my journals were lost. Since realizing it I have been on a dedicated search to find them. I combed through all the trunks rotting with moisture in the garage. I burrowed into the attic, hauling out boxes and strange artifacts put there a decade ago when the house was built and not looked at since. I sorted through the bins above the sauna – and when I got to the last one I was sure this would be it. But no – just another collection of old National Geographics.
I have been keeping journals since I was twelve years old. As yet, however, I have reread none. I have felt that the time was not right and I felt that because the prospect of being so close to my past thoughts stirred in me a great apprehension. I feared I would re-live the feelings of the past and those feelings would cause havoc to my peace of mind in the present. I had always assumed though that one day I would feel differently. One day I would be so secure, so comfortable, so perfectly calm and happy with my life, that it would be no threat to crack open Pandora’s box of nostalgia.
Well, looking at those albums with such attention confirmed the logic of my fears. If my life had been a sidewalk, then the feelings inspired by the dear faces of my past loves were like roots jutting up, laying waste to the order of my smooth cement. I felt tenderness and longing and love, a complex stew of resentment and remorse, destabilizing blows of doubt. I wondered if I had been all wrong. If I had drawn different conclusions, would it have all been okay? I wondered if, in fact, come what may, he was my true love. Or maybe him. Or him.
I’ve had a couple weeks to ponder all this. And this is what I’ve realized: The danger is not the feeling, but the fear of the feeling. Roots, above ground, are beautiful and graceful. They are natural, inherent to the condition of being a tree, and they give each tree its distinct character. Above ground, exposed to the sunlight, roots become familiar things, weathered and dear. They are nothing to fear. Indeed, why would one ever want a concrete path, always in opposition to the nature beneath it? When instead one could make one’s way, fearless and comfortable, meandering among beautiful roots wherever and however they are revealed.
My friends, Lissa and Zoe, experienced nostalgia in their own unique ways on this trip. Their renditions are coming shortly…
It’s funny how serendipity works. The fear of facing one’s past memories and emotions is very real. For years, I have refused to look inside of a storage trunk that holds a lot of memorable artifacts from my 20’s. VHS tapes, pictures, articles of clothing, etc… all from my early life as a married man and a young father. I think my fear is the same that you described–the rustling of past emotions and memories that I’d rather not remember or face because of that particular fear. I’ve been meaning to dive in and close out those fears ever since I moved into my present place (March 2002), but as you can see, if it hasn’t happened since then, then maybe I’m fooling myself to think I’d face it any time soon.
There are a lot of things I didn’t like about myself back then. Hard reminders of the growth that I acheived over the past decades. Your observation about that ‘fear’ has me rethinking about whether to just leave ‘well-enough’ alone or to face my fear and gain that certain true closure that is long over due. At least I’m willing to think about it again. Ciao