That Time You Balanced Ten Years in One— To the person who disappeared this year
Every morning I have the same routine. I roll out of bed, open my door, and let my dogs gallop ahead of me down the stairs to where my children take responsibility of the dogs and I take responsibility of the coffee. Once perked, I’m allotted a single cup of solitary confinement during which I snuggle into my orange chair to read headlines, double check my day’s agenda, and look at Facebook Memories. A glutton for nostalgia, I have latched onto this modern day trip down memory lane as a daily reminder of the bittersweetness of time. I look forward to remembering what neat things my kids were doing on a random Tuesday in 2009, or what my hair looked like when I wore it short, what I ate, whom I saw, and what I garnered as share-worthy material. I smile at the happy memories, I tear up at the teeny tininess of my babies, and I catch my breath every time my father appears in the time vault. Mostly, I marvel over how much has changed. I’ve been a member of Facebook for ten years and it astounds me just how much can be packed into a decade.
Ten years later, I still live in the same house, albeit remodeled, on the same block with the same neighbors, surrounded by the same yet taller trees, and under the same Louisiana skies to ponder. I still consider many of the same friends my closest friends. My husband and I are as committed as ever and dream as large as always. But so much is different. Ten years later, I now have three children—one a teenager. I’m down to one parent. I’m in an entirely different line of work. I have a new dog. I’m one dress size bigger, I need eye cream and retinol, I’ve given up shoes that hurt my feet, and I’m older--ten years older.
There are other changes.
Through my morning memories ritual, I am often hit by faces and personalities, characters from a past life whom I love but with whom I rarely exchange more than an idle comment on a post nowadays. Sometimes it feels dishonest. How can something as general as social media be a fitting resting place of a friendship that once was so genuine? But then I consider that perhaps they were meant to be part of a season only--present in our lives for periods that needed enrichment? And so I keep them in the vault, knowing the feeling is mutual. It's as if we both know it was okay to wander in opposite directions. Time lends that perspective.
But lately what I have found most enlightening isn’t the blasts from the past but my own posts from only one year ago. Of all the years I’ve lived, 2019 was the year I lived ten years in one. I ended 2018 in numbing pain, having watched my father deteriorate quickly from cancer after Thanksgiving. When I see a memory from a year ago, I’m not just shocked that I bothered to share anything about my personal life, but more than anything, I’m reminded of how much I let change.
Whether grief is the trigger, or another shock to the system like divorce, or a devastating situation like job loss or illness, I think there is a natural gravitation initially to hold onto the constants in our lives. Why would we welcome more change when it feels like change is destroying us? A year ago, I see an Annie digging her heels into the ground, defiant against change. I might have lost my father but my life would stay intact. I clung to friends, I jumped back into organizations and social groups faster than I thought I would, I embraced carnival season, I made plans and promises, and I did my damnedest to get back to living.
Then I unraveled. Now almost a year later, I know it was entirely unavoidable.
Force is like that. Anything sudden doesn’t just rock us; it reveals. We eventually see everything we’d been overlooking for so long. There were cracks in me that I’d attempted to smooth over long before my father was sick—cracks that in my darkest days were finally seen for the chasms that they actually were because any front I’d put up against them couldn’t stand up to the pain of losing someone I loved.
In my ten years of memories, I see a me who appeared content but was set to burst. I wanted to be an idyllic mother, yet I was resistant to sacrifice. I wanted a bigger purpose, yet I didn’t want to choose between family and work. I wanted material things, yet I was intimidated by what they required of me. I was a walking conflict of interest, smiling through much of it. It’s as if the smile in the pictures in Memories was my glue. As long as I smiled, building beautiful memories, I could hide my own indecisiveness over what kind of life I really wanted. But when the rug was pulled out from under me last year, a smile was no longer enough to settle the matter. I had to study the chasms of not just the last ten years but maybe all the years together.
This is precisely when I more or less disappeared. This is when I became that other face in Facebook Memories—the one when we think, what the hell happened to her? This is when my old life had to become a memory as I processed everything. I couldn’t hold onto the past only and I couldn’t just churn out the same life when it had been traumatized. What I had to do was turn in for as long as necessary while I sorted out sorrow from anger, disappointment from guilt, and determined how much I wanted to live at all. Some may call this depression. And maybe it was, or still is, but it was the first time in my life that I allowed change to be a companion and not an enemy and when I let change take its time with me and not let time rush me through change.
And change I most certainly have.
I’m not nearly as social as I was last year and yet I don’t feel I’m missing out. I select invitations based on genuine interest, honest availability, and not manufactured guilt. I’m as present as I always was at my children’s events, but my children sense a deeper involvement from me. I live in our moments—moments measured in what we get out of them, not how many we make. I’m working full time again--a decision I came to because in spite of days when I think living the rest of my life without my father is too much to bear, I know a future is a blessing and one I want to experience bountifully—take the vacation, buy the boat, so to speak. I took in my mother and am rebuilding a relationship at which maybe I’d stopped working. I’m reinvesting in my sisters’ and my husband’s lives, and more than anything, in me. Before I can launch another decade of memories, I need to be at peace with the one with whom my memories start--me.
They say that trauma puts everything in perspective. I now believe it puts ourselves in perspective more than anything. Through a year of balancing ten years or more of growth that I’d let fall through chasms, I have a greater perspective of what I need compared to what I think I need and ultimately to what I want to have. It is a kind of peace with myself made possible only when I became too curious about change to loathe it.
I know enough to know that time doesn’t always fly. Sometimes it squats, languishes, and demands acknowledgment. It’s accepted that as bustling individuals zipping through the decades, we see one another for who we are, but rarely do we stop and consider from where another has come. There are faces and personalities who will flash in our year-in-reviews, our decade-in-review, and in our minds as we follow time into a new, roaring 20s. Some faces we will recognize with fondness for their unique placement in our lives at just the right season. Other faces will seem like old, fuzzy socks, worn in and just right, steady constants. And then there will be those who seemed to all but vanish. The urge may arise to pity them, worry, and reach out in the new year. Do, but understand this. There may be nothing wrong other than time making things right again, filling in the cracks and smoothing the mortar.
Sometimes a disappearing act is the only way one can reappear.