Category Archives: memory

all grown up now

I wasn’t going to post this originally – and then I got into a discussion about high school elsewhere on Facebook, and decided to do so anyways.

I had a nightmare about high school last week. Or rather, about the high school reunion, the one I didn’t attend two years ago (I had walking pneumonia and it was the weekend of the 2nd Annual BPSA Moot. Even i had been well, I had grownup obligations.)

In this dream, I was at the reunion, with a lot of the same people I am now Facebook and Instagram friends with. We were all as we are now, adults. And I started making a speech about how I forgave everyone for their cruelty, about how glad I was that we could all be friends as adults, that we could now be grownups with so much in common.

Image result for oak bay high

This is the “old” wing of Oak Bay High’s “East” building, 1929 – 2015.  The school was demolished and rebuilt in 2015, the year of our twenty year reunion.

After all, my high school classmates are, like me, products of the Canadian middle class in the late twentieth century. We all share the same cheerful view of our homeland (similar to our fellow GenXer Prime Minister’s) instilled in us by years of CBC and the Ministry of Heritage, tempered with our years of trying to grow up during a provincial recession. We are all from Victoria, a city between Vancouver and Seattle, a weirdly schizophrenic city poised between the nineteenth and twenty first century. We should have tons in common by now. And, as we all have entered the Grown Up phases of our lives, with partners and children and/or other dependents, those commonalities have increased, and I’m actually now engaging more with People I Knew At Oak Bay High than I was when we all actually went there.

Having much in common and even renewing friendships (in a range from genuine to superficial) does not make up for years of cruelty and exclusion in my subconscious though. When I looked up, in my dream, from this heartfelt statement of forgiveness and subsequent emotional investment, everyone was gone, off to hang out at a classmate’ s business. They had all left to go socialize and had not even told me they were leaving the reunion, much less invited me along.

In reality, when awake, I would disregard that behavior as ridiculous.  Real adults address their problems with other adults.  It is children who exclude and abandon out of a heartless combination of thoughtlessness and malice, a combination that is unacceptable. Still, if an actual grown-ass adult behaved that way, ghosting my company without a goodbye or explanation, I would, to this day, pause to consider my behavior, to try and figure out if I had done something to justify exclusion before realizing that it wasn’t my fault.  Other adults’ childish behavior is not deserving of my introspection or self-blame.

In dreams though, that kind of learned, logical, corrective behavior doesn’t kick in. In dreams, we’re poking around in corners of our brains that our waking selves have long since papered over.  So instead, I just felt the deep humiliation and shame I would have as a teenager.  I just felt like I had done something wrong, and that people didn’t like me, and it was somehow my own fault for being too emotionally needy and clumsy, too messy, too loud – and too ugly and fat to be able to make up for those shortcomings.

And that’s when I woke up.

It’s twenty years since high school, and I’ve had to accept that I am never going to be able to gloss over the decade between grades two and twelve. I believed in my teen years that I was undeserving of human contact because of my failure to modulate my behavior and my physical shape in a socially acceptable way.  I was too loud and too emotionally sloppy, a bad combination to start with, a lethal one when combined with a status as “the fat girl”. It was ten year period that started with elementary school cruelty, ran into the middle school meanness, and ended with senior high loneliness, as the childhood mockery dwindled into mere exclusion.

I have reduced both the loudness and my size, placing my behavior and my body well within the acceptable lines of North American society.  Still, as an adult, I now live with a low-level paranoid anxiety that people do not like me, that I am unlikeable as a person – no matter what my body size, unless I carefully maintain behavior that is considered “likeable”. It’s a fallacy that I often have to logically remind myself isn’t true.  Not everyone is going to like me as an adult, but sometimes, that’s just the way things go.  Not everyone has to be my friend.

And yet, here is this old hurt, these ancient humiliations, cluttering up my brain and my dreams.  It’s only within the last few years that I’ve really managed to shake the shame, that sense of deserving all that loneliness.  I’d love to be able to clean this narrative up, reduce it down to just undeserved bullying, but I’m unable to do so.  I think that’s the worst part for the victims of bullying, is the sense that we deserved it based on behavior or actions or looks we failed to change.

Bullying teaches its victims that we should feel ashamed to be who we are, that we are unacceptable as people.

Why does all this matter now?  Or rather, why is this coming up?  I’m not quite sure.  It isn’t as if this hasn’t been dealt with.  I did paper over all this for years, re-inventing myself over and over and over again.  I didn’t want to be the sort of person who had a horrible time in elementary and high school.  I wanted to be the sort of person who was totally normal: well dressed, socially active, attractive.  The sort of adult I wanted to be in my twenties wouldn’t have had been such a freak as a child.

And yet the woman I am in my thirties has had to take all that history out, air it a bit, and accept that yes – this is who I am and this is what made me who I am.  And who I am is enough.  High school is behind us all, and we have all made out of our experiences there whatever we can, taken whatever we can and moved on.  Nightmares or reliving old humiliations doesn’t change who I am today, nor will it change the person I will continue evolving into tomorrow.  The impact that time has on my life is forever, but finite. Perhaps by writing all this down & writing all this out, I can remind myself of that perspective and ensure that random throwback dreams remain irrelevant.

 

Advertisements

dreaming of the edge of the world

Douglas Coupland wrote, in Shampoo Planet, that home is where you dream, that it’s part of your brain’s hard drive.  That we’re all hard wired for our dreams to be set at home.

I’m not terribly sure where I dream these days.  Many days my dreams do exactly what they should do, and parse through the mundane things that have happened to me each day.  Some days, they are pop culture references – TV, movies, books.  And then other days, I dream of my own home, of that corner of British Columbia I grew up in, took for granted and left.  I dream of Victoria.

With no close family left in BC, I’m unlikely to return, even for a vacation, because I know I’ll always prioritize the rest of the world over returning to that corner of it I know by heart.  And yet, every day, I think of random places and it catches my breath in sadness.  I’ll  be caught by a random memory of Oak Bay in summer, or I’ll look at a street in Manhattan and see the West End.  It is forever and ever part of my permanent memory, my own hard drive.

For the past year, since I said goodbye the last time, since I wept my way back across Canada on a red-eye flight back through Toronto last November, I have been trying to push back those memories and focus on my actual present in Brooklyn.  I love Brooklyn, after all – I love New York the way I loved Vancouver.  This is the most Vancouvery place I could have settled with my family, after all, with its hippie food co-ops, overpriced real estate, bike lanes and beaches.  New York City is ten times the size of Vancouver and yet I get it because I lived there.  And I chose to be here, and I work every day to stay here and I love it here.  And so, rather than focus on the past, I chose to push it away.  I thought that would be the smart thing to do.

The problem with the past is that it won’t be pushed away.  It’s been half a lifetime since I lived on the Island, a dozen years since I left Vancouver, and yet I still dream of home.  It’s taken me the last twenty years to realize that not everyone feels homesickness like I do, and not everyone has the emotional attachment that those of us born in the Pacific Northwest do to our homeland.  Maybe I should be celebrating that and shining that light into my own memories instead of drawing the curtain on them. Maybe I should choose to follow those memories for a few minutes each day – not enough to be lost in nostalgia, but enough to accept the sorrow and the joy that comes from spending the first twenty years of my life in a lost English colony on the edge of the world.

And so, I’ve chosen to spend a few minutes memorializing my own memories of Victoria.  The neighborhoods and streets are still there, and many are actually protected by heritage and building laws.  The Victoria in my memory is frozen in time between 1988 and 1998, in an era before the Internet had pictures, a time between when the natural resource industries crashed and the tech industry started, yet it doesn’t look much different than the city I said goodbye to in 2015.  There will never be skyscrapers in Victoria the way there are in Vancouver…but there will be condominium developments, and there will be growth, and there will be big changes yet to come.  When I remember places – a half-finished Songhees walkway, Vic West of abandoned industrial zones, an Oak Bay Marina with Sealand of the Pacific (yes, of Blackfish fame) – they are memories of places that no longer exist except in memory.

I have pushed back memory because I am afraid of homesickness, of the addiction of nostalgia and the past.  These are terrible temptations in stressful times.  I have questioned many times since I left the Island if my desire to go home was pure homesickness or just a longing to return to a time that was less complicated.  After all, wouldn’t everyone like to have the responsibilities of their nineteen year old self for a few days instead of the responsibilities of their thirty-eight year old adult self?  So it is with the fear of addiction that I risk reliving memories of British Columbia and choose to describe them.

So.  I remember Oak Bay, Victoria, the Island.  I remember Vancouver, the Lower Mainland.  I will allow myself to revisit the place I know by heart.  I will trust myself to accept the strange mix of loss and comfort that is growing up someplace that borders on the unreal in sheer beauty, and then having chosen to leave it, as every small-to-medium town kid does, to See the World.  After all, being able to call one single place home means that, as long as I live elsewhere, I am forever on a journey.

When I am self-pitying, that is when I tell myself I’m living in exile Off Island.

When I am hopeful, that is when I can see that journey as being a lifetime of adventure.

And living in Brooklyn, that is exactly the adventure I dreamed of as a teenager in Victoria. I do not need to convince myself of the sheer awesomeness of my present, I just need to come to terms with the contrast it has with my past.