I read this pretty highly disturbing novel this week called Time’s Arrow for a class I’m taking on Crime, Fiction, and Film. The narrator is an unidentified and undetected presence living inside a Nazi death doctor who is re-living his life from death to birth in a world that’s running backwards…so trippy, and so disturbing, as you must do violence to someone to heal them. Anyway, the narrator finds it incredibly interesting how humans forget everything, but he remembers, and it occurred to me that even though he means how humans “forget” everything in this scenario because it technically hasn’t happened yet, we are quite adept at forgetting things in the real world too. I wrote in my response:
We remember what we want to remember. We have a tendency to downplay or even repress memories of unpleasant or traumatic incidents in our pasts, and it is not uncommon for two people who were once lovers to regard each other with mere cordiality in the future, as politely as if they are strangers. We would be unable to function in society if we remembered every trespass against us, if we held every possible grudge, and/or if the weight of our own actions was constantly bearing down upon us–we are, indeed, talented at forgetting.
And it was one thing to write that for class…it was another to see it taking place within the context of my own life. I don’t even think about my interactions with my ex anymore, though they have been both the thing I most anticipate and the thing I most dread about days in the past. He has a tendency to sit at the desk closest to me in the room at my eating club I do all of my work in, and this doesn’t phase me. When one of us groans at our work or laughs at something, we share it with one another with no problems. When we run into each other around campus, he smiles and acknowledges me, and my smile back is genuine. He asked me for help with STATA (a statistical software sociologists–and evidently, economists–use to analyze data) the other day and I didn’t hesitate to bend my head over his laptop and try to figure out what was going wrong, or to point him in the direction of further help. When my mom and I were leaving Quad today to go home for Thanksgiving, I specifically called out to him to wish him a happy holiday, and that too felt genuine.
I will admit, however, that later on in the evening on the night I tried to help him with STATA, I wondered whether I’m being too soft on him. Should I be colder? Should my politeness feel fake? Should my kindness come from a place of social responsibility, rather than of genuine feeling? Did I let him off the hook of hurting me too easily? Are my current actions negating our prior mistakes? Do my current feelings cancel out the pain and hurt of before? Am I somehow doing myself a disservice here, or not teaching him the lesson I should?
And then I realized that I just don’t have the energy for all of that, let alone the desire to walk around with sandbags of anger and hurt tied to my legs. Harboring all of that negativity wouldn’t serve any purpose. It’s not that I’ve forgotten what we were or why it ended or how he made me feel; when I want to, I can recall all of that in great detail. But on a daily basis, it just serves me better to ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen…act like I’ve forgotten about it. Making us both live in those unpleasant moments forever is so…7th grade. It’s just…easier this way. No one has to walk on eggshells. There is no shooting or receiving of dirty looks. We don’t each have to be eternally sorry. I remember passively, and I live my life for me.