Memories no longer hurt
February 16, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
For most of my life, memories were torture. They were like pitiless satires of my aspirations, mocking everything I’d ever attempted.
All I had to do was try to sleep, and I’d be flooded with memories of disaster, horror, pain, humiliation, and failure. Around 2007 it started to change, as I realized that each catastrophe also brought brought to mind periods of joy and fulfillment. Though nothing had turned out the way I’d hoped, there were still experiences that made me laugh and be grateful that I’d had them.
I thought for sure that the memories of 2013 would haunt me forever, but that hasn’t happened. Those memories no longer hurt because the mindset I deliberately cultivated from 2007 to 2011 is permanent. I’m proof that a person can change a defining characteristic through sheer force of will.
This isn’t “fake it until you can make it”; I reject that philosophy. It wasn’t that I pretended I was grateful until I magically became grateful. No, I simply reminded myself over and over that not everything was a shade of darkness. There was plenty of light that helped me find my way.
Over at Tim’s house—formerly Mom and Dad’s house—the only real difference is that Mom and Dad are no longer here. We haven’t changed much. Neither of us were up for it, and there’s no hurry. Dad’s clothes still hang in his closet.
It’s not hard to look at them. He wore the camouflaged one-piece coveralls when he was cold, and there’s a tweedy overcoat on the right that he had for forty years. He was wearing it the night in Stavanger that Tim, Paul, Pat, and I took Dad’s company car for a joyride. None of us had a driver’s license. Mom and Dad were supposed to be gone until the wee hours, so off we went, Tim at the wheel.
When we got home, as we drove up the cul-de-sac toward our house, we saw a shadowy figure. At face level a cigarette end glowed in the dark.
“OH SHIT!” all four of us yelled at the same time. We thought we were dead, because Dad had a terrible temper. Instead, he was strangely calm.
“My company care is not for joyriding around in,” he said mildly. “Don’t do it again.”
“Yes, sir,” we chorused. Seeing that stock-still silhouette and the cigarette like a spark of hellfire in the night is still one of the scariest, funniest moments of my life.
Here are some wooden toy World War I fighter planes Dad made for himself.
They sit above his computer. I helped him buy the decals, from a great company that went out of business. Looking at and handling the toy planes doesn’t make me sad. They brought Dad pleasure, so they’re nice. I’m sure I’ll take them with me when Tim and I move to Texas.
Yesterday I found a diary that Mom kept. I had no idea that she was a diarist.
In 1982 Mom and Dad were living in London. Only seventeen days earlier, Paul and I had nearly been blown to pieces by the Irish Republican Army in Regent’s Park. I don’t remember this birthday. Was I back in California by then? Despite that horrible event, I like seeing my mother’s excitement about my birthday. Red pencil and three exclamation marks. Wow.
Mom had one of the most obnoxious little clocks ever created. It has a massively intrusive TICK-TICK-TICK that you can hear from ten feet away. It still sits on her bookshelf, ticking loudly.
It’s very odd that she put in the battery herself, but now she isn’t here. I used to tease her about that damn clock. She moved it to a bookshelf in another room because when we had our nightly conversations, I’d hear the clock ticking in the pauses between our sentences. I told her I’d sneak in the house and smash it with a hammer when she was asleep. That clock creeped me out, like the hideous alien doll Mom gave me thirteen years ago. It still tries to talk.
When I was a child, this song always made me cry.
As a man of fifty-one I can see the beauty of the song. It’s about the cycle of life.
In watching its pendulum swing to and fro, many hours had he spent while a boy.
And in childhood and manhood the clock seemed to know, and to share both his grief and his joy,
For it struck twenty-four when he entered at the door, with a blooming and beautiful bride.
But it stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died…
It rang an alarm in the dead of the night, an alarm that for years had been dumb.
And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight, that his hour of departure had come.
Still the clock kept the time, with a soft and muffled chime, as we silently stood by his side.
But it stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.
My parents’ spirits were pluming for flight. There’s nothing sad about that. They’re free. Think about it: No more aches and pain, no worries about the state of the country, no fear of the future. I can’t be sad. There’s still a strangeness about it all, especially since they didn’t have to die, but that was the decision they made. I accept it.
Like my life, I wish Mom and Dad’s had been different, but I’m confident that their next go-rounds will be better.
Last night I watched King Kong, starring the divine Naomi Watts. I’d forgotten how moving certain aspects of it are. Actually, I’d probably blocked out those aspects because they were just too painful. But they aren’t anymore. I enjoy seeing them now.
Once upon a time, I got looked at like this. Regularly.
I was very lucky.
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