When Windows 10 update finishes, it says, your files are all there right where you left them. This is an ominous message to receive. After my stroke, I feel like my memories are all there, right where I left them. Yet, something is still different all the same. I am missing some sense of scale of time or when the memories happened. The memories are all there, true enough, but they are all smushed together, as if an elephant had stepped on a grilled cheese sandwich. My memory is that smashed sandwich. All the parts are there, but not quite in the same shape as I’d left them.
There are many strange aspects to having this new kind of memory that is different than before. I don’t know if I can do a good job describing it to you, but I’ll try. One of the weird things is that the feelings of a memory aren’t stored with that memory anymore. Maybe I lost that part in the stroke or maybe I never had any feeling about my memories in the first place. I tend to think it’s the latter since I was always pretty good at regulating my feelings. I probably did it all the time as a defensive measure. I doubt I relented for even a second. I think this is what people call “putting up walls.” My guess is that things happened that I remember but, at the time, I had suppressed the feeling at the time. So while the memory got recorded, there was nothing to record when it came time to record the feeling. It’s not that my feelings got lost when my brain got scrambled, it’s that they never happened in the first place. I think that’s what’s happening here, but who can really know?
This is strange, because I find myself feeling a lot of things about these memories that still exist that I never felt before. Sometimes, they are welcome warm memories. Sometimes, they are a bit raw and sensitive. Maybe what I’m about to describe is how people normally feel about their memories and feelings and I was somewhat abnormal before the accident for having the ability to suppress that. Maybe the stroke “fixed” me in that way.
I find myself having some pleasant feelings and some unpleasant feelings of memories that have long ago been stored and processed. These are very old memories with no particular feelings attached to them, but now I’m receiving very much new emotions about these old memories that could easily have been forgotten.
One memory that got me to notice that all this was happening that was different than how my pre-stroke damaged brain had worked was of Beth’s feet. Beth was a girl I went to high school with. I think she was friends with my girlfriend in high school, but not really close friends or anything. More of an acquaintance, I guess. I don’t remember being friends with her, either. I don’t think we knew each other more than as classmates or acquaintances. Beth is my age now, around 46, probably. So, it’s strange that I have these feelings because of these memories of a high school girl from long ago as if it just happened recently.
What I remember strangely and inexplicably vividly are Beth’s feet. She went around high school barefoot most of the time. I think she owned shoes. She simply chose not to wear them most of the time. At the time, I recall, I thought that this was kind of dangerous and unsanitary. Imagine walking around your high school without shoes. Your feet would get dirty pretty fast with no way to wash them. Beth didn’t seem to care about that. She would prop her bare feet up on nearby chairs and things. It sounds way sexier than it was at the time which was rather mundane and somewhat unsanitary. Maybe there is something about writing that transforms the every day action into something more when that writing is complemented by an imagination. That is how my feeling about that memory has transformed. It’s as if it were stretched through the lens of writing.
Although Beth was a nice enough girl, I made no attempt to be her friend or to talk to her. Now, I have the feeling of regret that I didn’t do that. I don’t know anything about her at all, whether she was a nice person or whether she would like me. I just vividly remember the specific details of her feet and how she propped them up near where I sat in class. And in some sort of post-feminist way, now, I feel like it was a bit transgressive and bold of her to walk around with dirty bare feet like that as if it were no big deal at all. I now have the brand new feeling that I like that she didn’t care what people thought about it or even what I thought about it. She just did it and it was who Beth was. She was the one who walked around in bare feet, enjoyed the visceral feeling of it, and didn’t care what you thought. I find that really cool now in a way that I didn’t when I was in high school. And I feel some regret for not recognizing how awesome it was then and letting her know how I felt about it. Maybe that is not the kind of conversation you have in high school with a girl your age who is also your girlfriend’s acquaintance. It is kind of a weird conversation to have at any age, really. I don’t think I could have even had the same kind of feelings about post-feminist empowerment when I was a teenager. Such a person didn’t even exist yet. But now, here I am existing and responding to these memories as if they had just happened.
That is a lot of feeling to process based on a small detail from a long time ago. Imagine if you remembered a girl flipping her hair or chewing on a long strand of hair in high school in great detail and a flood of new emotions came over you because of these meaningless, yet precise and vivid details. It’s a strange thing, but not altogether unpleasant because I get to visit a familiar place, and time travel into myself from an earlier time. I feel like I am still me, and not my teenage me, experiencing these old memories. It’s rather fun in a way to experience old memories in an unexpected new way. But there is a certain sadness, too, to this kind of time travel. This is the regret I was referring to. I can feel different things about a moment long ago passed. But I can’t express myself in that moment to the people who are in the past that is but my memory of them. Beth is probably around 46 with kids and a husband and maybe even kids who have kids. Who really knows, right? The Beth I know from 30 years ago doesn’t exist anymore except in my memories. The Beth at the time probably would not have reacted too kindly to my idea of her dirty feet as a kind of post-feminist transgressive action. Or maybe she would. The sadness is that I can never find out because Beth from 30 years ago is gone forever, but it seems like I can because it’s like it just happened and I can still respond to it. But I know it’s not true. But for some reason, I still feel that it’s true. And that feeling causes the feeling of regret. It’s a strange thing. There’s no word to describe a kind of regret that you have about not having done something that exists only as an illusionary feeling in your memories. What do you do with such a feeling? Certainly, it would be silly to act on such a regret. But also, doing nothing doesn’t seem quite right either. But doing nothing is exactly what my former self would have done, almost certainly. I’m not very accustomed to processing feelings. It’s something I’ve been able to avoid doing for a long time. Like a pile of unwashed dishes, it’s just been piling up and haunting me and waiting for me to take some sort of action. Yet, I don’t. So, although going back in time can be pleasant and fun, there are some strangely unpleasant side effects to it. I’m not sure what to make of it. I think it’s still worth it, despite the strange negative feelings surrounding it all.
A different, unpleasant feeling that I have sometimes is the feeling that I forgot to feed Gracie or that Gracie wants to eat, but I won’t let her. Gracie was notorious for waking us up far too early to get us to feed her. Now, she had totally trained Jennifer to feed her early by waking her up at inappropriate times, but I was determined to be the boss and try to teach her to only wake us up at the right time, that is, she should be taught proper doggie manners. Needless to say, it never worked. At the time, I felt like I had a purpose, like I was carefully training a dog to be a better dog.
Now, I feel differently about it. My friend is hungry and I’m being kind of a jerk about it. She can’t make her own food because she has no hands. But my friend can talk to me and tell me that she feels hungry now. I feel bad and my eyes are welling up a bit just thinking about it now. It’s not her fault she can’t make her own food. She would most certainly make us both food if she could, I’m pretty sure. She’s a good dog. She means well, but she’s just a dog and has her limitations. But all she can do is tell us it’s time to get up and get food. “It is a good time to wake up. Don’t waste the day! Today is going to be fun! Let’s eat and make it a good one!” she seems to be saying to me now. But that was not how I felt about it then. Back then, I was like, you crazy dog, it’s 4 am right now. Wait at least an hour. And if Jennifer isn’t here to get up for work, please wait longer, too.
I’m so sorry, Gracie. I saw you only as a dog, a thing to be trained, and not as a friend. I miss you, my friend.
Maybe this is what normal people feel, all the time. I’m sorry also, to all you normal people, with all your normal feelings, for acting however I did at the time. I know now that I must have seemed very alien to you at the time. Maybe this isn’t how normal people process their memories and emotions either. I can’t really know for sure, but this is what I have to deal with now, and it’s all kind of new to me. Not being sure if what I’m experiencing and how I’m experiencing life is the same as everyone else. But I suppose that’s true of everyone. Maybe it’s a little bit more true of me because of my smashed grilled cheese sandwich type of memory that maybe other people don’t have it like that.
Or maybe there’s a simpler reason to this. I’m reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore which has an eerie, disconnected metaphysical feel to it. Maybe I’m just overly influenced by this book while I’m recovering.
Or maybe, what I’m hoping, is that what I’m feeling is not caused by Murakami’s writing, but is a reflection of the truth of it. Maybe I am experiencing something real he tried to describe in his novel in figurative form. I feel like my experience is something new, but similar, because it is not exactly the same as what he described, but similar in feeling. It is not the same. it is not a copy. But it could be an influence. I really don’t know.
I am going to enjoy it while it lasts. I may go back to being my old self and back to building walls. I don’t think it can be helped. That’s just how I was built from the beginning. It will be a little bit sad to change in that way. You could say that this event changed me in some fundamental way. What’s strange is that by taking something away, another thing is added. Now that my walls are taken away, everything is different. Things are a little scarier because even small things can be tinged with regret or sadness that I didn’t realize could happen. I suppose, like everyone else, I’ll just have to learn to cope with it.