I ran across an old, online photo album the other day.
Well...if we're being honest, I got a little pop-up on my phone saying, "Hey, remember all these great times from six years ago?" and I fell for it.
Oh Google, how you do keep track.
I flipped through as many of the images as I could bear to see. There are reasons why I am not nostalgic, besides the fact that I don't want to see the bad hair or bad clothes, or the unhealthy and unhappy me.
(Time out, just to say, "Fuck you, Six Years Ago! And Ten Years Ago, too...")
Should I be feeling introspective? Grateful I'm not that person anymore? Some would look at those images and wish they were still her. Never I. Even the pictures of my children were painful--they are infinitely better now than we were then (as am I), and I'm not entirely sure why we maintain a record of a time when we were all so intensely uncomfortable. The worst part of it all might be knowing that at the time, I probably was feeling pretty good compared to how I felt the 5 or 10 years previous.
There is no part of youthful stupidity I miss--even if my "youth" in this case was me at 40. At 40, I thought I knew things. In truth, I did know things, but none of the things I knew turned out to be important.
I knew how to maintain what I had, and the life that I was living, but paid no attention to whether it was what I actually wanted.
There's your trouble.
Being what I would call a "malleable" person is a hazard. You wouldn't think it would be, because it makes it so easy to get along with everyone. I enjoy most of what life throws my way because I like new things, like being shown things, and like "checking in" to a particular experience from time to time.
And then...I wake up months, or years later, all bent out shape.
If I have one regret it's that I wish I had learned that I'm in a great place while alone, much earlier in my life. That's not a statement against the men in my life, or friends I have; it is just a realization that I am fairly weak, easily pulled in many directions, and end up, as the man once said, "far, far away from my heart."
That's a place one should never go.
Well...maybe drive to the overlook and have a peek, but then step away from the edge and go back to your car. Nothing good happening here. Go home.
None of this is to say that I can't have a relationship, or friends--more the opposite of that, really. Now I know. Now I know what I want those things to be, and I have them as I want them, not as they are thrust upon me. It's lovely.
I was reminded of a thing I wrote a hundred years ago, about a guy--he acted as if I was worth his time, but under direct questioning, finally denied it. I talked about, among other things, discovering that all of the good things I did for myself, all of the horrible things I did to myself...I created those things. It was me all along. The idea of being dragged around by somebody...it doesn't hold water if we want to say, in the next sentence, that someone inspired me to do good things. I can run a marathon fueled by "good" inspiration. I forget that the discomfort, the unhealthiness, the door mat behavior--all of that was also inspired. Instead of inspiring me to run, it inspired me to stop, and for me, stopping is death.
I'll refrain from nuking that entire online photo album, even though I hate virtually every image in it. I read some time ago about a woman who hated to be photographed, as I do. She said she was not happy with her appearance, and there are plenty of occasions I feel the same about mine. Then one day, she realized that she wasn't going to be here forever, and she envisioned her children wishing they had more photographs of her. That day, she started allowing herself to be photographed. I've moved in that direction, somewhat. Of course, I can say "yes" to having my picture taken occasionally now that I've put in a LOT of work to get physically healthy and mentally happy--I am horribly vain, after all--but it is not for me to say whether my children found me beautiful at that time in my life when I wasn't. The ugly old me will stay in that digital vault, although I should make it clear I will haunt them from the great beyond if any of those photos turn up in any public forum and/or my funeral announcement.
The past, then, has the same purpose it always did: to be a sort of dumb place where we existed because we didn't know any better, and to emit enough of a stench to remind us that we must never return. I don't have to like it, but for me to exist, it must, as well.