Nostalgia and Interpretations
We are how we interpret things.
When I went off to college I left my high school friends behind in a small town. I had thought for many years we were close – so close that when an outsider who didn’t settle too well with a member of the original cast and they ended up fighting – I thought it was rotten that the original member of our gang wasn’t more stood up for. It was even worse when one of the clique fucked the recent ex-girlfriend of another one, mostly out of spite. It was through these things I started to see the tenuousness of our relations.
I went to college about 150 miles from our town. It was literally a new life for me. A campus with classes. A new job at the a campus ministry center, of all places. New friends. Adjusting to nearly absolute freedom. I was nervous. I was away from everyone and everything I knew. Gone were the gravel roads and farm ponds. In were quadrangles and dorms and lecture halls. But gradually it became okay and then I really started to love it. I made new friends with guys who accepted me as the long-haired weirdo in ways my friends back home, honestly, were reluctant to accept anybody else. After a while, there wasn’t much that made me want to go back except the memories of the good times with those guys back home that I assumed would be there awaiting when I returned, prepared to make new memories.
These were the days before cell phones – hell, before long distance calling cards even. If I wanted to speak to anybody back home it had to be by pay phone or calling collect so the only people back home that I spoke with or wrote to was a wannabe girlfriend (i.e. I wanted her to be my girlfriend) and my father. Over the months, I guess I didn’t realize how much I was losing touch with those high school buddies who, up until that point, I’d seen and hung out with day after day, week after week at school.
When I came back that summer from my first year at college, I returned to changes. One friend had aligned himself with a new friend who shared a greater interest and taste in drugs than the rest. Another was getting serious with a girl who he married a year or so later.
I came back that first summer and they said they there were going to a concert later in the summer and, had I been around, it would have been something I’d have joined in on. But I’d been gone for months and mostly forgotten about so it hand’t occurred to them to invite me. It was disappointing. I did, after all, look forward to seeing and doing cool shit with all of them when I came home. But I hadn’t kept in touch like they hadn’t kept in touch so it made sense that when it came time for them to make plans that I wasn’t at the forefront of their considerations. I got it. I could see they were moving on and in many respects, I already had too.
And I look back on it now as a natural progression. People evolve and change. Their lives evolve. Ideas and beliefs and priorities change. I changed by going to a city to study. They changed by taking jobs and wives and having kids and pursuing music or drugs. I understand all that now. The loss of our bonds was natural – nothing to grieve over.
I explained this to someone and she asked if I ever talk to them anymore. I said, “No, but it seems natural that we don’t.” I explained that the stoners and metalheads and skateboarders we were 30 years ago aren’t who we are today. And I explained not everybody is all that nostalgic. Some are. Some aren’t. I’m not. I preferred that present of college, with all its promise and potential, back in 1989 just as I prefer this present to the past, perhaps because in this present I can change things toward becoming something different than yesterday. There are possibilities in the future but the past is the past. It cannot be changed, unless we lie about it.
I went on to explain that one of them found me on the internet a while back and threw out the obligatory, “We oughta get together sometime” and with some sincerity I probably replied, “Sure.” I now live in another town maybe 20 minutes from where he still lives. We sent a few more brief messages back and forth detailing the major things about our lives which really aren’t that major compared to anybody else.
Even tough I tepidly or politely agreed to catch up sometime, the reality is, in the handful of my yearly returns there, I got family to visit who complain (perhaps rightfully) about never seeing me enough. There’s parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings and nephews. There are those still with us and those departed who deserve a few moments of your time every now and then too. And an hour of conversation about the past always turns to 2 or 3 or 4, which still never seems enough. I always know the time will be tight, so I’ve never made that call to the old friend who probably thinks I’m too selfish for him while a parent that only gets a few hours every few months thinks the same goddamned thing about my relationship with them.
But I don’t suppose he makes many of those calls to the rest of our crew still living around there – the one who’s been to jail or the one who moved a few towns over or the one, last I heard, was living in a mobile home with a wife and a few kids and is supervisor at some factory. The same one who I can’t find on Facebook and who may want it that way. And it’s not just their own wives and kids and jobs and homes and church – they got parents, alive and deceased, too. And hopefully other things that help to keep them from going insane – just like me. I tell myself ball games and concerts and traveling and drive-in movies and amusement parks are the petty things that help keep me afloat. Just distractions, maybe, but I think they help keep me sane – unlike mowing the grass and filing taxes and the necessities of oil changes and teeth cleanings. Even still, I don’t get around to all my distractions in a year largely because of their negative inverses.
Plus, I’ve made a few new friends since the old days. New friends I don’t see enough of now because of their lives and mine, now.
So, somehow, chewing the fat over who and what we were 30 years ago doesn’t have much appeal to me. Slayer does. Fancy steak houses and cheap diners do. Roller coasters do. Flea markets do. Horse races do. New York and Chicago and Las Vegas do. But not nostalgia. Not the ghosts of the past. Unless I lose my faculties, those dusty memories will be with me until the end. But there’s still time to make more memories, not just sit contentedly on the worn out and broken ones. There’s still plenty of things to do and places to go when there’s enough time and motivation to be mustered.
But I’m told this is a fucked up way of thinking, with an implication of narcissism or selfishness in it. But I later think, Sure we could spend time again, but with little reminiscing, please. That’s in the past. How about something new instead of the old shit that we already know? Sure, it was an early act in the shared play of our lives, but we’ve lived it. Instead of reliving it, how about we live some more – now – before the play ends. Our memories of those days, the ones we muse over, are of the fights and getting drunk and stoned and how I got into the sold out Danzig show by luck and you got in by guile. Our memories of those days aren’t of sitting around talking about the past – they’re memories of the cool shit we actually did. And more, Danzig was our past while Ghost is the present and can be ours too.
Then I remember the lady I work with, rumored to be a minister, and how she told me at her church they’d just had a sermon about how people come into and go out of our lives. And that sometimes they’re just there temporarily to serve a purpose – for us to touch them and/or for us to learn from them or vice versa. And this sermon said that transience is okay. It’s natural and something we need to learn to accept and not be bitter over the loss. That it’s just fine to let go of the past for the sake of now and the future.
But these seem to be conflicting messages that suggest we are different people based on which account of things we accept.
We are how we interpret things, whether it’s preserving the sanctity of the shrines of our past or gladly accepting the transience of things, including who we once were – acknowledging, understanding but neither reveling in nor glorifying it. One person desperate for connection may find it in his past, while another desperately seeks it in the present. Either way, they’re searching for the same things, just within vastly different terrains.
And for the one whose past was pleasant, perhaps more pleasant than the present, it makes sense to return to that comfort. It makes sense to stoke those embers with another one who’s equally satiated by their glow. But, like The Torah or Mumford and Sons or rugby or arrowhead collecting, it’s not everybody’s thing.
And as one flees from his past while another one takes refuge in it, the consequences manifest in different ways, both good and bad, for both. And maybe we should accept that instead of judging, for each is far more like the other than either one is like a demon or saint.
Somebody might say that since history is worth preserving – that means personal history is too. Well, okay. But, for me, it’s not a very big deal since now and tomorrow hold far more promise. And some might argue that reveling in or clinging to a petty past, accepting or – even worse – gaudily embellishing it – with some sense of grandeur, is essentially narcissistic. I don’t know. And maybe I can’t know. And, if so, that’s a big problem. And that’s why sometimes I just don’t wanna listen. I wanna be away from all the voices telling me an ink splatter or burn on a piece of toast is either a pelican or a kabuki mask or a vagina or the South China Sea or Jesus. I wanna be away from them cause maybe the fucking thing is just an ink splatter or burn and seeing and defending and moralizing and justifying it as anything else is the kinda shit that keeps ripping us apart from the inside and out.
Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. Maybe people are just different.