Fragments of thoughts that I had subtly been gathering in my mind for a while were finally summoned together by Véro’s latest post.
I was as much a character from her story, as she was a character from my own narrative. But what kind of character? That is really what I’m wondering. What little parts of you stay with the people you meet along the years?
Still, my memories from being 12 are filled with her presence.
Véro talks about reuniting with a childhood friend who was once dear to her and then they grew apart, and how she will never again meet the child she herself once was. That child is gone.
Or is she?
“You’re still the same girl, no?” an Italian once asked me at the end of a story.
“We’re all following our own paths, aren’t we?” philosophized a Brazilian I once chatted with.
Some moments stick with you forever, and some don’t. Why do we choose to remember the ones we do?
Were they meaningful to our past selves or – perhaps – more so to our present selves? Do they shape how our future will go? Why do near strangers sometimes have a strong impact on our lives or stay in our memories?
And friendships… Out of all the friends I had as a kid, there is only one my mind keeps returning to, almost disturbingly. I dream at night about that period of when I was around 12, like Véro. I don’t long to reunite with my best friend from those days, but my brain keeps doing so.
Why? The only clue I have is that it might’ve been a significant period of my life in other ways, and somehow my brain retained all of it. Even the parts that didn’t matter.
And this girl – am I a recurring guest star in her dreams too, or has she more or less forgotten about me? Do I perhaps feature unexpectedly in some other friend’s or classmate’s memories?
I once had a British penpal who told me he’d decided to move to Japan because I had encouraged him to study Asian languages. It was a big decision, taking a complete new turn in his life, and he was excited. And I was just a penpal! I wonder if he became a language teacher. We lost touch.
How do the people we meet impact us? How do we impact them? I believe we are the sum of our experiences, but some encounters still fly under the radar and are easily lost in the wild.
What about childhood in general – as a parent, it feels slightly nerve-wracking knowing that any tiny, insignificant thing might end up becoming something life-changing. I didn’t watch the Elton John movie – it seems like a tear-jerker and I just can’t deal with that kind of nostalgia (Elton John formed a large part of the soundtrack of my childhood, since he was my mother’s favourite for a seemingly long time). But I saw the trailer: a three-year-old Elton runs downstairs on Christmas morning and is happily surprised by a piano waiting for him, while his mother beams with pride and good intentions. Who knew what path of fate was about to unravel in front of that little boy. What if he hadn’t received that piano, what would have become of him?
I haven’t bought my kids a piano. Am I depriving them of something? They haven’t yet swam in the sea, petted a cat, or traveled on an airplane. Some kids this age have already joined a local football club for kids. Some are constantly surrounded by friends of their parents, having late night picnics while our boys are in bed. While I do try my best to give them new experiences, obviously there are many missing that they could have had by now. Are our boys missing out on something important? Which moments will they later on say were defining childhood moments? How am I shaping their identities with my everyday preferences, like offering them mango flavours instead of apple? The choices I don’t even think of might be the ones that matter.
Lately, I’ve heard many people in my neighbourhood complain about the lack of nature here. I live in a downtown area in the capital city and it is surrounded by the sea. It’s a seaside town and my neighbourhood is also by the sea, so I’m always amazed at this complaint. Isn’t the sea part of nature? It’s right here! What are you complaining about? We also have a large green park. It’s urban, yes, but this is the country’s capital after all! We aren’t in the countryside. What are you expecting if you live in the city?
And then I remember: hang on, the people complaining are probably originally from small rural towns and villages. I check: yes, they are. That explains it. Their definition of “nature” is forest. There is no forest in our neighbourhood (like I said, it’s downtown!!!) and to them, that means there is no nature. The sea means nothing to them because they didn’t grow up here. They grew up near the forest and that’s what they miss. Walking in the woods. For me, that’s foreign territory, and while enjoyable (if you don’t get ticks or deer flies stuck in your skin), it’s not something I’ll ever miss because it’s never been a part of my personal culture… the cultural identity that my mind formed of me when I was little. They aren’t called formative years for nothing. The things that feel familiar and normal to us are the things we grew up with.
So Véro, I would say the little girl you once were isn’t gone, not at all. She is very much with you. Just look in the mirror closely and you’ll see her. She is guiding all your decisions and opinions, whether you realise it or not.