“Each night I lie down in a graveyard of memories.” – Jerry Spinelli.
Growing up is a pencil sketch on a sheet of paper. Hours are spent filling in the details of people and animals and the things you love and all that means something to you.
But when you finally look up from the edge of the paper, you realize that some of those carefully drawn in faces have been erased. In their place is a trail of pink eraser dust and a smudgy white spot that can never be fully removed or drawn back over cleanly.
I’ve always been a nostalgia time traveler of sorts: present me feeling nostalgic in advance for future me. I look into people’s faces and feel an ache for when we are both older and only one of us is still there. To quote Milan Kundera: “How could she feel nostalgia when he was right in front of her? How can you suffer from the absence of a person who is present? You can suffer nostalgia in the presence of the beloved if you glimpse a future where the beloved is no more.” When I see my dad sitting in what has always been his ‘dad’ chair, or when my mum tucks her hands under her cheek when she’s re-watching her favourite movie, I miss them already. I’ve looked at my mum before and told her that I can’t imagine having to live so many years without her. We were both quiet after that, tears in our eyes. I wrote my grandpa a letter when I found out he had cancer: How can you ever be ready to say goodbye?
There are a couple of moments that I wish I could do one more time.
I’d be five. Purple sweatpants, white t-shirt with a colourful cartoon airplane on it (90’s clothes, you know how it was). Peanut butter sandwiches in the living room after swimming lessons. Older brother beside me, eating off of wooden trays on the floor. Back against the old brown lazy boy, cold glasses of milk, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on the grainy, boxy TV.
I’d be 9. Cold summer mornings with the windows open and the smell of Dad’s coffee in the kitchen. Jumpstart computer games in the basement during the hot afternoons. Mum’s tortoiseshell glasses and soft cotton t-shirts as she curled up with us on the couch in the evenings.
I’d be 18. The year before I watched my grandma take her last breath. The year before I understood physical loss and how finite the foundations of my existence are. I’d go to my first university class with fresh binders and come home to family dinners and go to bed with my little dog curled at my feet.
There will always be parts of me that wish the end of my bed where my dog used to sleep wasn’t so cold. I’ll always miss being able to spend summers drinking orange juice at my grandparent’s kitchen table for breakfast. I’ll want those childhood family times where all three of us kids were crammed in the backseat of the car while our parents bribed us with jellybeans for not fighting with each other. That’s just normal. However, I’m finding as I get older that I’m using my ‘nostalgic time traveling’ to my advantage. As much as I loved then, I know that now is tomorrow’s ‘then.’ These are the moments that require my attention and investment and appreciation. I miss those people, but I know I will one day miss these people, so these people are where my energy needs to be spent.
The briefness of time and love is what makes this human thing so staggeringly, achingly beautiful. We know it will end, we know that people will take deep and intimate parts of our soul away with them when they leave, but we pour our beings into them anyway.
“I sit before flowers
hoping they will train me in the art
of opening up
I stand on mountain tops believing
that avalanches will teach me to let go
but I am here to learn.”
– Shane Koyczan.