When you come home from a far-away place, everything hits you in thick, choking impressions. The smells are strangely familiar, yet they’re new. The faces harder, the shadows darker. People try to strike a conversation, but subtly -- nobody notices it -- I recoil -- their voices are like coming from an answering machine that got recorded a long time ago, and only now you’re hitting that Play button. What I mean is, you see new things, not necessarily good things, or not necessarily bad. Just same old, but different.
It always happens this way. Given a long-enough time, everybody you’ve known in your life becomes strangers – old drinking buddies, former sweethearts, even your parents. People you knew become people you don’t know, or wouldn’t like to.
I’ll tell you about jamais vu. It’s dejavu’s opposite.
Some years ago, when I was still in the thick of a long-term relationship, I woke up one night – I remember I saw 2 AM on the bedside clock – and I was disconcerted to find a woman in my bed. I remember the feeling of genuine shock. Who is she? And why is she not wearing anything? And where am I?
Another time, I was in a shopping mall with the same ex girlfriend. And because it takes her ten fifillion years to buy a pair of shoes, I let her try on one pair after another while I browsed CDs in the record bar. 30 minutes later, somebody taps me on the shoulder, smiles at me, and says, “Look, aren’t these shoes so cute?”
For a good five seconds, I didn’t know who she was. But as swift as the nonrecognition were things falling back in the same places. Oh, it’s her, alright.
Four years ago, when one of my childhood buddies suddenly died of leptospirosis, I was at his wake, I was staring down at his dead face. I remember feeling nothing. There was nothing. I was empty. This was a person I had so many fights with when we were kids. I used to “assassinate” him with a handful of dried dog turd on his way home from school. He used to lay siege on our house, howling by our gate with a baseball bat, calling me names that were both annoying and funny at the same time. But he was a good friend when we were both on our good side. But he was dead, and I felt nothing. And I realize it was because I don’t remember him.
This non-remembrance cuts both ways.
I often speak with friends or with my brother or my sister, about something that happened a long time ago, and they wouldn’t have any recollection of it. More and more I realize if I’m the only person who remembers something, and nobody else remembers it, did those things really happen? Did they take place? Didn’t I just imagine them? Is there really more fiction and less fact floating in the space between people?
My ex girlfriend calls me up one day. We chat. I don’t talk about the past. People move on, I say. We all should. But when things are not going well on her side of the world, she calls me up and drags me with her to the past. It’s all silly. The sad thing is, the things I remember, she doesn’t. While the things she remembers – all of them – are things I perfectly remember, too.
This continues to disconcert and hurt me. I’m a walking sack full of memories, and I resent having to own them all. I didn’t invent them. I confabulate a lot, but I have stuff that are sacred, that I want everybody else to recall. I tell somebody, “Remember that one time, I was trying to peep at your sister taking a bath …?” And when they don’t remember it, I’d drown in some ardent urge to slug them with a lead pipe, and beg them to remember the goddamn thing, dredge their own memory, bring it back and admit that they, too, remember. Because it’s not fair, isn’t it? I feel so unbearably lonely. Am I the only one who’s supposed to “cherish” memories I’ve shared with other people? Even if you console me with some nice patronizing explanation, such as other people have less-than-perfect mental faculties, I’m still taking it badly. I still find it disturbing.
But recently, I’m learning. I’m beginning to grow my own zen-like wisdom. I’m finding myself saying, “What’s that again? Did I call you shitbag? DID I CALL YOU SHITBAG?” Or, “Funny, but I don’t think I remember I screwed you. But I do remember sniffing that dog's butt.”
I’m finding myself becoming like everybody else, or worse.
But then the thought hits me: what if we’re all just pretending to forget? Pretending to not, well, remember? That we say the things we say, do the things we do, not because they’re real, but because it’s some sad form of self-protection. Like some exoskeleton we use to deflect the daggers thrown our way.
And if it is, isn’t this world so beautiful – full of people who are empty and dead, long before they actually die.
Cheers. It’s fucking nice to be back.