For the most part, I feel largely disconnected from my past. I’ve heard it said before that each person is essentially ”reborn” ever 7 years, meaning I think, that we are essentially new, or at least different, then our 7 year junior person-selves.
That memories shift into the chasm of the longtermblurrybrownish cliff dwellers who only come out when called. But I find it hard sometimes to believe that this is an equal opportunity human experience. That the person who has grown up in one home, living there into adulthood, shopping at the same markets, walking by the schools they went to as youth and adolescents running into people they grew up with, maybe marrying their high school sweetheart and has stayed thus married for 20, 30, 40 years, is quite so different after a mere 7. Or AS different as a person who has made their home in many places, been with many partners, held many jobs. But saying this I recognize I may be erring on the favored side of validation of my life choices. As if more diverse life experiences necessarily equals more a more interesting and qualitatively developed person. As if it is more about quantity than quality.
I also wonder about how connected to their past selves people with varying degrees of life experience have and whether this does in fact, play into your sense of identity, continuity, your coherence and assimilation of life and the world. Adding another dimension into the mix, what if your life was highly diverse and changing but also highly documented? For example, I caught sight of Bob Dylan’s biography, “Chronicles” and was spun into thought about how being highly photographed, filmed, interviewed, how having thousands of people corroborate thousands of stories about you, might affect your sense of self. Yes, these are the things I think about. So I write about them, too.
And as I write this I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Every single time I travel, no matter where I go, I am amazed at the way us human folks can physically move our bodies from one place to another with just a hop a plane, train, bus, or car. And New Mexico is indeed a very different place than Oregon, or at least Portland. For one thing, I would appear to be the only female and one of only a handful of humans that has tattoos. But wait! That’s not where the differences end! While in New Mexico I have learned that, more so then compared to other places I have visited; the sky looks very different from where you sit below it and the landscape is vastly different depending on where you walk on it (truly, it’s hard to believe that such different landscapes exist in the same country). I also learned some personal things about myself. Such as; apparently my body is capable of producing sweat, my skin is not capable of tanning in the way that the skin of people who live here is, I’m really way more into warm nights then hot days, and if I absolutely have to remove a blood-inflated tick from a really cute and sweet dog’s head, I will suck it up and give it my best shot.
Another thing that I have learned in my time here is that people around here are more, well, settled in. This is an impression of course and I suppose I can’t say for sure if this is true but it does seem that way. It seems especially true the further you get from the city itself and perhaps that is the case everywhere in the country. But what it makes me think about is that in the city there are just so darn many choices. Choices of absolutely everything; jobs, careers, activities, partners, clothes, foods. Out here there are fewer choices and because of this life seems simpler and as if it has more continuity. I won’t go into the catastrophic changes that did take place here over a hundred years ago, when us white folks came in and made a giant mess of everything, but will for the purposes of this post, stick with, let’s say, the last 50 years.
Just for a taste of what I am talking about, on this trip we ended up the dog to the vet, NOT because I was unwilling to try the above mentioned tick removal but because there were in fact many ticks. There was a family, an army really, of ticks. And a little tiny scratch on her leg which surely needed to be looked at. Anyway, the vet in Bernalillo, New Mexico sits on the front porch of his adobe veterinary clinic smoking cigarettes, complete with cowboy boots and handlebar mustache, until someone needs something. When you walk up, he tries to place you and your family lineage. Unable to do so with us foreigners, he started talking about the family lineage of just about everyone else in the town. And about his date to the 8th grade formal dance. And the bucking bronco he may trade with a client for, vet services for a tattoo, on his rear. The man was not linear. The man was hard to understand. But he knew his own past, the past of his town and the people in it, in a way that I probably don’t know about a single person in Portland.
I miss my former selves in the way I miss my Grandmother. Like I wish I had spent more time with them, gotten to know them better. I can recognize myself in the pictures that I see of myself in years past and in stories that others tell of the me they remember. I know that it was me because I actually remember that I wore uniforms at the Town School in NYC and kissed my acting buddy Noel when I was 10 in the stairway of my apartment building, where I lived on the 14th floor (which was really the 13th, a superstitious practice that is still common in buildings there). I know that it was me that cried during math class during middle school, that stopped eating chocolate… not one bite… for over a year in high school because I was convinced it made me break out, that bleached my hair white in college and felt lonely and miserable trapped briefly (I broke contract after 6 months and moved the hell out) in a dorm room with a Christian cheerleader. that indeed I was there in Amityville each summer with my Grandmother. I remember those summers best when I eat raspberries and when see fireflies and hear crickets on a warm and humid night, when I smell talcum powder or cold cream or Wrigley’s Doublemint gum because these feelings are visceral and immediate. I know that these and a million other Alyssa’s are all me but still, I find it hard to believe that I was there. The handful of journals I kept over the years seal the deal more than anything else; pictures, stories, even memories, which are, ultimately, highly imprecise. The writing in my young self journals is mine. Me. Without a doubt.
I worry sometimes that I have already done too much in my life, though when I think about this rationally I know it’s silly. But I do, I worry. I worry that as I have aged I have grown too used to change. Have become so adaptable, so comfortable with shifting places and people, so independent, that I have almost become solidified in my fluidity. That it would be hard now for someone to wedge themselves into my rock hard motion and movement and create a permanent and constant place in my life. Yet I know it’s possible because finally I have friends that have been in my life for many years. And of course, I have my parents and I have my son.
This trip to New Mexico is one that my mother made happen for her, my son, and I. And thus on it, I am existing simultaneously as mother and child, though at times I have felt like sibling to both would be a more accurate description. On this trip I am reminded every moment of who I am, where I came from, and where I am going. I am reminded also every moment of my surroundings because their difference with my norm is so very obvious. I am straddling the past and the future of myself and of the country and of the people around me now and the people that will be around me when I return home tomorrow. It’s a pretty cool place to be. I like it here. And I am also excited to get home.