The things that come flooding back from behind the closed doors of my brain are strange sometimes. Not sometimes. All the time. When memories show up, complete and intact and full of tastes and smells I haven’t thought of for years, it unnerves me. If they can disappear so completely, and then reappear out of nowhere, what else is hiding up in there?
Today, it was the memory of the bright white glare of Southern California sun on the sidewalks up near Sunset and La Cienega that cut through my attention and distracted me from the budget I was reviewing. I spent four years near that corner, almost exclusively. Quite seriously, I almost never left. I gave myself over to a work-life entirely, and lived and breathed and slept that life without respite. It’s shocking how vague, how romantic, how foreign it feels now, when it was all I knew for years.
Those formative years between 22 and 26, years when I changed from being a hollow shell without an identity to being a human of some kind. A human who was finally on the way to the human I am now. But before I got on the path I live on now, there was Everything Else.
Those years were spent drenched in incomparable Los Angeles sun, vodka, gin, cigarettes, secrets, adrenaline, ambition, Red Bull and a coffeecoffeecoffee buzz that never really quit. And they were bordered by fear, sadness, despair; imbued with the smell of vanilla lotion from Bath & Bodyworks, antibacterial soap, southern food and the sharp, high tang of booze-soaked wood floors. And they were populated with ghosts. Some of those people are no longer living, some are just like me – no longer the person that they were.
The core of the memories in that place, though, the richest moments, were with a man who is no longer alive. He lent intensity to those years, focus to hand-rolled cigarettes, import to trips in his truck to Pink Dot, where we each bought four-packs of Red Bull for $9 that would be gone before the evening was over. My feelings for this man were echoed when got to know Chekov’s Three Sisters – Masha says of Vershinin “At first I thought him strange, then I was sorry for him, then I came to love him, to love him with his voice, his words, his misfortunes…” Unlike Vershinin, this man didn’t have two little motherless girls, but he was strange, and intense, and fed a part of me that needed both of those things. Our relationship hovered somewhere between flirtation and fraternity, and a vague but persistent nausea settles over me when I look back on how little I knew, how safe I wasn’t, how broken my heart was before we even met.
Is this what happens to everyone? I wonder all the time, and want to ask – do you pity your younger self? Does she (or he) make you cringe, but also feel sorry that no one was there to guide you? I think this must not happen to everyone, or how would we have made it as a species? The utter shame of having once been young and dumb would cripple us all.
Although really, the utter shame of having once been young and dumb should probably cripple us more than it does, on the whole.