Any serious love affair that ends leaves two differing tales in its wake. When we glance in the rear-view at roadkill romance, we humans tend to remember things the way what we want to remember them, or maybe even the way we need to remember them.
Think about the enormity of that for a second.
How often do two ex-lovers look back on their time together and tell the same tale? Not very often, I suspect; not very often at all. But it isn’t really a case of wrong or right/black or white either, that’s what makes it so strangely fascinating in a way. See, history in general is just a big old lump of clay, constantly being reshaped by whatever hands are dug up in it. And when the historians themselves are nursing broken hearts, doesn’t that almost seem like writing a Civil War book when you’re drunk off your ass.
Something to think about anyway.
Separated from my wife now for months, I’ve had some time to reflect on what happened, what it was that led to this holding-pattern state of demise we’re currently hanging out in. In retrospect it’s not that difficult to see that we were growing apart. In a lot of ways I guess I even knew it at the time. Still, I struggle for the answers. And while I agree that we were probably at a point where much of our marriage had become messy, and that our individual lives had become increasingly insufferable within the union, I still have problems looking back with clarity.
For better or worse — probably worse — I think I still look back on things so much differently than she does. I believe now that my memories of our nearly decade-long marriage are basically mangled by my own ability to recall a person or a place, or an era even, with starry eyes. For a while I think I thought I was sure that what we’d had, and even what we’d become as the years drifted on by, was something so worth fighting for. I thought it was something worth saving.
But I was wrong. My whole interpretation was just completely skewed.
Monica, the woman who I married and had three kids with — she wanted to bail on our marriage before me and for the longest time that pissed me off really bad. She was pregnant with our third baby. How could she pick a worse time, you know? I was heartbroken and incensed and confused all at the same time and so I began to look back. But what I did was, I didn’t look back at the insults and arguments and nights we spent not even speaking to one another, a long slew of nights slathered across years and years, but rather I held up my microscope and just zoomed that sucker in on everything that had been good between us. In the wake of being told that she was done living her life in sadness, I zeroed in on the happiness, because there had been plenty of that too. Just, it turns out, not enough.
Sitting here today in my own house, miles away from where she lives now, I am beginning to fathom how time is a beautiful thing and it can straighten out your mind for you if you ever want to let it. That goes especially if you’re all messed up emotionally. But the thing is, most people don’t have the wherewithal to let time work its magic, me included; well, at least until recently. Like most people walking around in the western world, I came pre-programmed with an insatiable need to justify my own brand of reality, to take every horrible thing I may have said or terrible thing I’d done and simply whitewashed it into nothingness with a special little trick we play on ourselves called selective memory.
While Monica tried to explain to me that what she mostly remembered about our marriage was the fighting and the disagreements, I began to dismiss any flickering shot of what had been so bad for so long and instead I chose, unconsciously as it may have been, to only remember the good shit. And when I did that, it was easy for me to refuse to honor the truth in what she was saying, even if it hurt like hell. And by twisting and bending my memory into my own self-made self-serving vessel, I was able to go ahead and wonder aloud how my wife could ever possibly want to let me go. Even though I now realize that we were ruining each others lives, I didn’t want to believe it. And so for years, I pretended as if everything was okay.
Recently, I came across a quote over at the brilliant website Brain Pickings that blew my mind way open. In a great little article about memory and dreams, a world-renown sleep researcher by the name of Rosalind D. Cartwright drops some seriously simple wisdom when she says:
“Memory is never a precise duplicate of the original … it is a continuing act of creation.”
I love that so much. And I find it more liberating than I can even explain. But what the hell, a guy can try can’t he?
Look, like it or not, a lot of us tend to think we’re usually right about stuff, especially stuff that matters a lot to us, like music or politics or even (gasp!) our own relationships. And so often when one or both people can’t make love work in its present condition I think we tend to wage battle against stark reality. We move towards the same old defense mechanisms we learned to use as toddlers throwing fits down on the scummy supermarket tiles when Mom wouldn’t buy us a candy bar or whatever.
We’re humans, you see, and these days a whole slew of us humans turn to anger and resentment instead of honesty and acceptance when things go wrong for us. Like when love collapses. We lack clarity when we’re one of the stars of the show. We’re blinded by the stage lights of our own performance. And we damn sure don’t usually want to take the blame for whatever it is that went wrong along the way to a final break-up.
At least, I think that’s what happened to me in a sense. Don’t get me wrong, we were BOTH bad at love. I guess some people could even say that maybe we weren’t t even in love anymore and who am I to argue with the audience from the stage? But even so, I will say this: My memories of all the good stuff, as warped as they are, or were, I think they were my way of telling myself that this marriage WAS something worth fighting for, despite the damage we had done.
In my own way, I think I knew, and hell, still know, that we were right for each other in millions of perfect ways. It’s just that we were too lazy, too naive, and too self-centered to go where we needed to go with one another in order to grow the damn seeds we’d planted the night we first met.
So all we have now are these two sets of memories, one jammed into a shoe box over at her place, one jammed into a shoe box upstairs here at mine.
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