The Fallibility of Memory

I had a conversation with a friend last night, while we were driving around looking for dinner, before watching Doctor Who, in which the friend made a comment,

“Other than Chris, you didn’t really date anyone in college, did you?”

My immediate thought was, “Of course I did!” I mentally scanned my time in college, my time at UC Santa Cruz, and laughed at myself for expecting that exercise to reveal that I had completely forgotten the year and a half or so that I had dated Joe, or Steve, or Rigoberto.

I answered my friend that no, maybe I hadn’t. That instead, I had developed some wonderful relationships with my female friends, and had proved, to myself and the world, that I was free from co-dependence, and could cheerfully make it on my own.

Still, though, the thought bothered me, and as I drove home from Portland, slightly sleepy and feeling annoyed that, while I hold my own in many aspects of our competitive Oregon relocation, he has me solidly beat when it comes to relationships and friends.

And it came to me. I hadn’t forgotten a Joe or a Rigoberto. I had forgotten about Wes!

It’s not that I had forgotten about his existence. In fact, I have an email from him, starred in my inbox, that I have been meaning to find the time to craft a meaningful response to for quite a while.
I think about Wes all the time, actually. Whenever I hear an English accent, and want to know what part of England it comes from. Whenever I see a mandolin, or hear a Flogging Molly song or when someone asks what, in the world, I am doing with a cricket ball. I think about Wes at least a few times a week. But somehow, when I think about college boyfriends, romantic pairings in college, I often completely forget about Wes!

And I can tell you why, too. I did it yesterday. When I let my mind roll over my college experience, across the dorms, and that year when the girls had that apartment in French house, and the time that Devon and Katie lived next door, with Devon’s bed in the living room. And over the parties, and the quiet nights at home and the various wonderful things we made and cooked and wrote and experienced, I look at Santa Cruz, and the people I love that lived there.

Wes existed apart from everything to do with college. When I was with Wes, we lived in limbo, close, spatially, to the existence we had led in High School, but also completely apart, and largely out of contact with anyone but each other.
It was us against Sacramento; neither of us wanted to be back, and there was absolutely no one we wanted to see there. We were stuck, together in a bizarre no-mans-land that did not look like our present, and was too close to our past to ever truly allow us to relax.

I was with Wes for an entire summer, after that first night when he kissed me, watching tv on the water bed in the spare room, and I jumped up and ran back to my parents’ house, to the last night when I helped him get his bags into the car, and took a picture with him where, although I tried to hide it, I look exactly like I had been crying for at least an hour.

I visited him in England a few months later, over Christmas, and realized that it was over. Realized that he was never coming back, and that, really, that was the best thing for him. I saw the country through the eyes of a local, or at least, a reasonably seasoned transplant with a transatlantic accent, gave him a hat that I had knitted for him a few months before, had my first legal drink, and left, hoping that we could keep in touch, anyway, in spite of the fact that we were together previously, and that now we were not.

It wasn’t over, of course, and the next summer found me driving back and forth from Santa Cruz to Sacramento, in an attempt to provide what small comfort I could, while the tragic circumstance that necessitated his return to the States left us both drained and fragile. When he left again, I had established that I loved him, and that I would, I think, always love him. Romantically, though, as a couple, we were clearly, obviously not meant to be. Our personalities would have dictated that, even if the ocean’s separation didn’t.

And that was what my brain was looking for, when I stumbled over the question of whether I had had any other relationships in college. I had a deep, meaningful relationship in college, that spanned two years, and has made me a life long friend, but my memory traces don’t find it, when I look at UC Santa Cruz. It hid itself in the cracks, and no one from my college experience ever really saw it, but when I look for it in the right way, I find myself astounded that it isn’t on the tip of my tongue.

I had to fight the impulse to call my friend and say “So there!” even though I know that, while he might find it interesting, really, truly, he would not care. I guess it just got me thinking about my life and the important people in it, and made me feel like I should document the existence of my dear friend Wes, so that the next time someone asks, our story will be the first thing that comes to mind.

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2 Responses to The Fallibility of Memory

  1. Dan Schkade says:

    The interesting thing about relationships is how the other parties in them, the rotating role of Most Important Person In My Life, can come to mean less in the memory. I mean, the frequency with which I forget the hundreds (less than ten) ladies I’ve left in my wake kind of weirds me out. But they’re there, lurking like highwaymen on memory lane, only instead of mugging and shooting you they remind you of they — shit, I don’t know. My highwaymen tend to remind me of how glad I am to be the Dan post-them. Glad to’ve learned their teachings, because fuck mixing metaphors at this point, and applied them to a better, and continually improving life with better people for me…

    I’m glad to hear about Wes, who loomed so large in our Santa Cruzian coffee conversations, and was always brought up with a tone of wistful care and fondness.

    I’d like to find a way to say all that without sounding like a prat, but I’m just not that good a writer yet. Cool story, bro-ette.

  2. Jesse Snavlin says:

    Time is kind of a freakshow, I think.

    One moment someone is in your life and the next they’re not. What’s the worst of it is at some point you were someone minus someone, and at some point you are someone plus someone, but it feels like, when you’re trying to remember, there’s never points where you just are someone. Of course, when you’re living your day to day life, I’m sure the absolute zero Tracy exists just fine. The absolute number |Jesse| prattles around klutzily from day-to-day, but in my memory, this is a Jesse+x, and previously there were |Jesse|-x, and I have a hard time reconciling the entrance and exit. Jesse+x, let x stand for Tameca; three years later let x stand for Paul… these seem like strange, chronic illnesses in my history, and reconciling the self that is a +x with a person of the past and the self that is |Jesse|+x, let x stand for Dan, feels false, forced.

    I wonder if |Tracy|+W will feel bizarre to you two years from now after someone has entered your timeline and you are irrevocably different, for the indeterminate time your life is part of their life?

    I think stories like these just make me nervous!happy for the future, for the writer, for the reader, and for the world.

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