were you to open this life (a tin, a bottle, a book — a paperback with its parchment dry leaves, many folded down to mark this passage or that one) what you would find is what most lives are made of, perhaps even yours.
there’d be that struggle to remember without photographic prompts, and so instead you rely on who you are now to determine who you were then. all those decisions you made yesterday laid out in front of you today and while you consider them the right ones now, at the time you made them you know there may have been some hesitation, consideration, fear, and trepidation or even in the rashness of the moment you may have chosen unwisely. and still all you.
but at one point in your past, the memories would start clamoring for attention: “pick me,” “no me,” they’d shout as they jostle and push each other aside in order to be your memory right now, to stand in the golden glow of your love and you’d start sorting and categorizing, denying, repressing (admit it–it may even be that you don’t know what you refuse to know), polishing the ones that make you the happiest, enhancing the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the moment to such an extent that you believe you are sitting there now, on a flagstone fence post at the edge of a natural depression in the black hills, the warmth of the summer embracing you, the smell of the pines, their whispering to each other, your mother with her brownie in hand, laughing at what a silly, handsome boy you are and telling you how lucky she is to have you, that it will always be just the two of you as it is now.
did you have a super-hero year? of course, you did. it was the year that you were invincible, your shell impenetrable, the detritus of a young life (uncertainty, indecision, fear, love) running off your umbrella and london fog raincoat to be washed away into the lake. there were the freedoms of youth: friends, sex, ignorance, and short-sightedness. you started to accrue friendship, interest doubling on your savings (character, charm, intelligence) and the debits of stubbornness, an unforgiving nature, moral rigidity (except at night, alone, when you wondered if you hadn’t made a mistake in turning your back on _____ and _____ because of their decision to argue with you.) it was not unlike sitting on a park bench that was only partly there. the effort it took to maintain the illusion dependent upon your stamina, agility, suppleness, and willingness to give of yourself to the friend with the camera in front of you.
but in that decade, that began with your invincibility and ended with your armor being pierced, shredded, your vulnerability suddenly the only scrap of clothing you owned (held tight against your genitals like the fig leaf used to shield the impure thought in renaissance sculpture). but, just like a hero, you start to rebuild, reconstruct a life, the friends from the past a foundation just as they are here on the night of your 30th birthday; and then there is love, a love that seems to be of the enduring kind (sharing that it is will not spoil the rest of your story) and somehow you’ve managed to build on the tragedy of loss and shore up your old memories with new ones, a renovation, a diy project. and with such a project, there are those friends, habits, loves, and lives that get left behind and you may mourn their loss (and you may not), but all of it continues to build who you are today.
a story such as this one is not complete without its own magical chapter, a fantasy, a running-away from the reality (dragging it with you though you are). at this point too, you are now a ‘we’ (editorial, not royal, although…) and we did run away and lived a magical couple of years until reality, without the aura of witchcraft, came knocking on the door, selling its own brand of medicine. but now, in spite of the turmoil, there were two of you instead of just you, and facing the challenges of change (and deep, lingering loss) was made more comfortable, even easier — although those who slipped away denied any easy explanation and even today you cannot truly shake the anger at what might have been that was killed by their senseless passing. but. you stand with your back to it all, your hand resting on the balustrade of the getty villa, squinting into the future.
happiness. you prefer happiness (yes, there are those who don’t, but that’s them, not you, and we’ve no space for that, this is, after all, your story, not theirs.) and you’ve found a certain level of joy (are joy and happiness the same feeling?) that seems even sustainable to you today standing in front of one of your favorite places in the world. you can see that the wrinkles of aggravation and fear are erased here (the result of genetics, peach facial scrub, and a certain level of denial as well as the light of the monterey peninsula–finding the light is a talent as well, any stage actor will tell you so). it is these memories, the ones in the not too distant past–the last twenty years or so since you’ve tipped the balance of your life expectancy to the downhill side–that now play and frolic in your mind’s eye, a silent movie but for you with “smell-o-vision” a trait that you can’t deny in spite of being told you don’t have a “nose” or asked “can’t you smell the shit?”
and so today. it’s something of a surprise, not an unpleasant one, but yet when you look back at parts of your life you wonder “how did i make it this far?” or “why i am still alive when so many aren’t?” that little bit of survivor’s guilt an embarrassment, but you accept it, examine it, write about it, remember it.