Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Things Past

I actually remember the very last day that I bumped around the city aimlessly. It was in 1995, a few days before I started library school, and I was looking for some books downtown. "I wonder when I'll get to do this again?" I thought, idly. Then there was school, and then looking for a job and planning the commitment ceremony, then working, then we had the baby, then there was more work, then we moved, and now it's 15 years later and I think I might finally get to do it again sometime soon. Of course, it is a different city and a different world. But still.

I remember the tile patterns in various bathrooms I have frequented. At my dad's apartment, I think it was, and also my cousin's nearby, and maybe my grandparents', there were these little white hexagons that made pleasing arrangements when you looked at them for long enough. And it might have been my elementary school that had tiles in a repeating combination of squares and rectangles that fit together in an interesting way, that you could re-arrange into many different interlocking shapes. Bathrooms on the West Coast mostly don't have that kind of tile. I miss it. I'm sure all that time looking at those tiles contributed to my understanding of geometry, too.

I remember the first time I wrote a paper on the computer, which was also the first time I accidentally deleted a paper, which was also, fortunately, the first time I made use of the "Undo" command. I was up late, late at night, in my mother's home office, typing away in a happy daze, and when I was done I highlighted the whole thing and accidentally hit they backspace key instead of whatever other key I had meant to hit. I was a senior in high school and the paper was about Theodore Roethke's poetry. I might still have it in my boxes somewhere, safe and sound on paper still. But there was that terrible moment, the moment when everything disappeared: all my insightful conclusions, my illustrative quotes, those graceful paragraphs. All gone--poof! Like that! And me staring at the traitor screen in mute horror.

I remember being three or four years old, sitting on the bus, looking at the funny pointy knobby things you could use to open or shut the windows. I called them kitty-cat ears because that was how they looked to me.

The other day a college friend posted a photo of herself on Facebook. We weren't such good friends that we'd made an effort to keep in touch before Facebook put me in potential touch with almost everyone I ever knew. So in my mind she is still 20 years old, doing pasteup on the college newspaper, funny and witty and flirting, maybe without knowing it, with the editor. When I saw the photo of her last week I thought with great sadness: oh! That girl is gone!

I know that girl (we called ourselves women, but now I think of us back then, fondly, as girls) is still there, inside my friend, like 4-year-old me is still inside 43-year-old me, still marveling at the kitty-cat ears. And if you believe in certain theories of time, she is still there in the common room also, still 20, still cutting and pasting and laughing and flirting. But in the regular, everyday world that I live in, that girl is as gone as the Theodore Roethke paper on my screen, and instead there is a (perfectly happy, by all appearances, I should note) middle-aged woman out there on the other side of that photo, and there is no Undo key.

Why this should make me more melancholy than my own middle age, I do not know.

9 Comments:

Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

This is almost unbearably lovely, Els. Thank you for posting it.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Drinne said...

Funny all my "art" stuff right now is a circle around those travelled places - childhood me - Teaneck me - Magazine Me - Now me.

It's like where overlapping circles intersect that make up the patterns we remember when we describe our lives.

I think for our generation facebook and the internet are just another of those circles - it will be different for the ones just 10 years younger than us.

But you are right - in my head you are still 18 and it's almost odd to hear you use the number 43 : )

8:10 PM  
Blogger E Wein said...

I've had that exact same experience. No, *I'm* not any older, how come everybody else is? (I know it's not that simple, but that's what it boils down to.)

I also managed to totally weird myself out looking at pictures of the back yard at my grandmother's summer cottage over 4 generations, and not being able to tell one from another.

11:58 AM  
Blogger vivacemusica said...

That's exactly the way I feel sometimes. Like time is pushing us all forward against our wills, yet is so subtle that it's also like a gentle stream flowing and we're just a leaf floating on top.

And Facebook is a strange time machine....

4:53 PM  
Blogger susan said...

Funny that you post this when I am coming to the computer to check things out before packing it down, heading to NY for a reunion with some people from high school. I am *wildly* in touch with my inner 14 year old, worrying what women I didn't like very much back in the day will think of me now. And looking forward to a weekend with my very oldest friend, in whom I still see our third-grade selves and our familiar 47-year-old selves.

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Liz said...

My parents' bathroom with I was really little was Greek gods and goddesses. And they were naked! And every kid on the block wanted to pee at my house because OMG NAKED PEOPLE!

10:26 PM  
Blogger liz said...

This post. THIS POST. Beautiful.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous badgermama said...

No undo key! We'll just have to keep writing then!

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I think for our generation facebook and the internet are just another of those circles - it will be different for the ones just 10 years younger than us.

2:34 AM  

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