I recently became friends with a man who has no past.
That is, of course, a lie. He has a past. Everyone has a past. I know from talking to him that there is a series of moments and events and decision which have lead him to the place in time where he is now. Of course, he has a past. It’s simply that he’s not allowed to have one.
He’s not a refugee or in the witness protection program. There is a person in his life who doesn’t want him to have a past. I have a feeling that there are actually really good reasons for him not to have a past, because the past can be a terrifying or tempting place to spend mental time, depending on what has happened to a person. My own past, fraught with emotional landmines, is a place I try not to spend too much time. I even commented the other day that I am moving toward a place where I start to see my future as increasingly independent from my past; just because I was a certain person doesn’t mean I have to be that person anymore. I get to choose, and seize the opportunity to make my future what I want it to be, rather than letting it be defined by my past.
But to not have a past at all? To not be allowed the indulgences of the good memories I have? I would find it intolerable.
Of course, I could live without the memories of perceived abandonment, sobbing after collapsing onto yet another floor as some male I hoped would love me is symbolically–or literally–turning their back.
I couldn’t live without the memory of hearing my daughter the first time she cried, knowing she was safe and that for the first time in my life, I had been born for a reason, and it was to give birth to her.
I could gladly live without the hugs I’ve had to give friends not knowing when I’ll see them again, the tears on planes as the ground pulled away yet again, the songs that spark nostalgia for chapters in my life that have most definitively closed.
I couldn’t stand to live without the memories of car windows rolled down and music turned up and my hand entwined with another person’s as we drive down the highway fast enough to get pulled over.
I could live without the memory of getting pulled over, even the few times it has happened.
I couldn’t live without the bittersweet tears I cried when I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or watching Six Feet Under.
I could definitely live without recalling the humiliation that has happened several notable times when I’ve called my parents to explain another life-altering mistake I’ve made.
I couldn’t live without having the memories I want and the memories I don’t want to provide structure for identity and self-security and future. I may not want all the past that I have, but if I didn’t have it, would I know who I am? Would I know what I stand for? Would I know who I want it my life and why? Or would I feel lost, not really understanding how my life has come to be the way it is? Would I feel powerless, directionless, and unhappy?
My past has had the unhappiest moments of my life, but it has also had the happiest. Both must necessarily exist in order to evaluate how good my life is now (hint: it’s pretty damn good!). No one has the right to take my happiest memories from me, but I wouldn’t even let them take my unhappiest. I wouldn’t be me without them.