Yesterday I wrote about a traumatizing moment in my life. A keystone moment, the kind that causes ripples years later, and I found myself unable to pinpoint the decisions which delivered me to that moment. How did it begin? How did I wind up in a situation in which I had no options but to comply?
I spent a lot of time in college trying to erase my traumatic memories, shredding diaries and photographs, throwing away ephemera that might trigger a feeling. In the process of destroying the evidence of a moment I wanted to forget, what else was lost? Little moments, the ones on the fringes, the ones that might bring me happiness to recall were somehow linked to the trauma and I removed them with the skill of a novice butcher, hacking away and discarding the bits I wanted to remove, leaving little of use behind.
This skill was perfected over time and I find myself struggling to remember the origins of hard decisions, life-changing moments in which I made a choice and continued down a path. I applied to three grad schools while I was still an undergrad. I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember requesting applications. The internet was in its infancy, there wasn’t an easy way to research these schools online. I must have gone to the library. I would have needed letters of recommendation, slides of my work. How did I do it? I even visited each of the schools, two of them on the east coast. I would have had to book flights, a place to stay. I did all of that. I don’t remember how.
My memory seems to be reserved for visuals and song lyrics, though even those can get a little muddy. I recognize drinking glasses used in commercials from my time working at Crate & Barrel. I can often tell you the name of a movie in the first few seconds it shows up on television (if it’s of a certain era). I can sing all the lyrics to American Pie as I’m listening to it, my brain gets confused if I’m trying to recite the lyrics on my own. These are safe memories, comforting memories.
Does stress erase connections? Is that why I can’t remember the origins of so many decisions? I’ve been keeping a diary since April. It’s boring on purpose. I recount little events from the day, sometimes how I’m feeling, but mostly what happened. I want to be able to look back at this time, this time I carved out for myself and see how things changed, how my thinking evolved. I think those old memories are lost for good, I need to make new memories in order to find the strength I once had.