There are things you never forget, both good and bad. Moments that stick with you, memories that linger. I find it particularly interesting when something you hear, see or smell brings back a memory instantaneously, and you are right there again, in those circumstances as if it’s happening right now.
The clearest of my memories are those from moments in my late teen years, through to my late twenties. Perhaps this is the time our brains are most alive. Maybe it’s the block of time where I got the most things accomplished or had the most change. I’m not sure. But it’s interesting when these moments arrive, unexpectedly, triggered by a song on a radio or the smell of a passing stranger who wears your high school boyfriend’s cologne – the cheap kind that you once stole for him from a drugstore.
Every once and a while I hear a particular Genesis song on the radio that reminds me of a night I had with a young man that started out like a dream but became a nightmare; we were both listening to it in our cars as I followed him home. Other songs remind me of very happy times – I can’t hear “Get It While You Can” without remembering standing on stage next to my friend Sam and singing with the guys from Big Brother and the Holding Company – a watershed moment where I spent a lot of time looking around and going, “Is this really happening?” And one listen to “The Trouble With Angels” by the vastly unappreciated Teresa James and I am back in LA at a post-Topanga Days party where she is playing with her band, I am hanging with beautiful-soul hippies, sharing joints with people from Little Feat and dancing barefoot in the grass under strings of lights, the smell of incense and good food permeating the mountaintop air.
Sometimes when it’s late and I pass a car dealership and see all the little colored flags, I am suddenly on one of a dozen used car lots with my Dad, who sold cars for a long time. I hear him in my head, explaining the different tactics the salesmen would try on you if you let them. I still see the $5 bill he dropped on the ground, waiting to see if the sales guy would pick it up and if so, whether he would claim it as his own or suggest we dropped it. The bait-and-switch. The lowball. The door-in-the-face. These things he taught me, from a young age, as we drove from diner to diner, him sucking down weak coffee and both of us eating coneys. “Never take anyone’s shit,” he taught me. “There’s always another job, another boyfriend, another city.” Which is true, to a point, but in reality, we all have to eat a little shit now and again.
Whether good or bad memories, these moments where I am lost in the past make me feel alive today when I feel them. Sometimes there are pangs of wanting, sometimes I look back with amazement. Sometimes I look back and think, damn, I am lucky to be alive. I was sick for so long that to try to remember back to a time before I ever got sick, ever, is hard to remember with any real clarity. The only warning I had was an early bout with gastritis when I was about eight that landed me in the hospital. I remember the girl next to me had cat scratch fever, which I couldn’t believe was a real thing.
I don’t live in the past. I don’t plan for the memories, but they are there. They come up, and like everything, I try to see them, experience what they have for me, and move through. Each piece, each story, each memory is a building block that makes up who we are. We are adding blocks right now, and we don’t even know it. What memories are you making?