When you think a stage of your life is over, that something happened so long ago that you can’t remember it, it’s a surreal experience to be brought right back to that moment in time by a song or a smell or something you dug out of a drawer. Looking through old photo albums, I recognize very few faces of little kids I was friends with, or those of my distant cousins, nor do I still have most of those memories commemorated in the photos. But little things, the knickknacks and odds ’n’ ends, take me right back.
Like little plastic Elmos in cars or the Incredibles action figures on the cakes my brother and I used to have for our birthdays. We’d eat those cakes on our back deck, since demolished. The deck took up a good third of our tiny backyard, the rest an untamed patch of grass.
I remember how much of a princess I was. Last month, when my father and I were repairing my ceiling — badly damaged from when I had a concussion and my emotions were so out of whack that I punched a hole in it — we removed the last hook that once hung a pink mesh princess canopy over my twin bed. I had a chipped set of tiny tea cups that I’d play with under the canopy.
I remember this dress that I absolutely loved, that I wore every Thanksgiving. It was blue-and-green plaid with gold buttons up the front and a satin curved collar. I’d sit in front of my great-grandmother every year wearing that dress, and I wore it to her funeral, too. I took my first plane trip to get there in time for the traditional Jewish wake, and then my first limo ride, sitting on my cousin’s lap, on the way back. My mother and I would sing “Miss Mary Mack” every time I wore that dress.
It is crazy to me how much of a girlie-girl I was when I was little. I’m reminded of this every time I walk into my bedroom, with its purple walls, floor and bookcases. Any song by Arctic Monkeys makes me melancholy, because I’d listen to them on the bus ride home freshman year whenever it was raining. Cherry ChapStick plunges me into the spring of that year, when I first started to explore the Deering neighborhood.
When I come home and hear my mom pounding nuts in the kitchen, I remember being back in my childhood best friend James’ house, baking with him and his mother while his iPod (that I was ever so jealous of) played and his dog scared the shit out of me from the other room. We’re in high school together now, and that is pretty surreal, as well. So much has changed since we knew each other that it’s weird to see him in my chemistry class, or driving his old Subaru Outback.
When I used to reflect, it’d all be bad. I’d lay in bed at night fixating on embarrassing moments from years past. Any tiny thought could make me spiral into those moments. Now, though, I’m predominantly drawn back to happy moments. Sure, they’re little things, like listening to books on cassette tape on my first Walkman, with those crap headphones my dad got. I often find myself becoming dangerously nostalgic, wishing for those moments to come back. But I’m now able to distinguish between little happy moments and a lasting contentedness. I think this is because I know I am the best me I have ever been in my life. (I do love me some clichés!)
This is a new experience for me. With my depression, there have been years that it hurts to look back on, because I was in such a bad place. I couldn’t reflect on those times because depression and anxiety were in my ear whispering that I was doing everything wrong. And now, while I might not be the nicest I’ve ever been, and I may not have the best style I’ve ever had, I have the best mindset I’ve ever had. I can look at trinkets and remember the bad stuff, and remember that even though I’ve made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes, that doesn’t make me a bad person. And when I find my old Walkman, I can pop in a book and listen to it, and appreciate the story, if not for the quality of the writing, then at least for the memories it brings.