Recently, I had gotten in touch with a childhood friend after 8 years. We attended only one term of primary school together – I move around a lot; that would be around 10 weeks together. To the objective third person, that barely looks like enough to truly get to know people, but one thing I have learned is time is not always proportional to the depth of your connection. High school propped up, promising the enticement of a fresh start in a brand-new environment. Due to our lack of freedom as school-aged children under parental authority, we had slowly lost touch.
But talking to her felt like I found my missing link. All these years I spent pushing any recollections of the past in the darkest recess of my mind was an effort to avoid realisation. Realisation that I truly missed the people, that I cannot turn back the hands of time, that our timelines had shifted enough that our roads have diverged into separate ones.
To think that the flashes of memory I’ve stored are not reality – that I will not return to that particular moment physically – is too overwhelming. Call it denial, call it self-preservation, call it a crudely general ‘moving on.’ This is my suit of armour in the times that I readjust; I submerge fresh-faced to tackle the present as if the past never existed, because it will do no difference to acknowledge it. The only aftermath will be unnecessary wistfulness and a heaviness of my chest as I remember that to build new homes means to leave the first one… right?
I learned during that phone call, however, that the avoidance of pain also means a denial of reality. When I was in my early teens, I had written a haiku:
lonely fact of life
people go, memories stay;
wishing vice versa
I am not sure I had completely felt the complexity of these simple words. You see, I had gotten particularly good at identifying and writing about emotions without letting them infest me. It took some cold hard conversations to truly uncover what I couldn’t bear to unwrap; that every ideal I have of memories reflecting reality is only an illusion.
Conversations with my best childhood friend:
‘How is ___?’ (Mentioning the name of the girl who had scribbled a platonic love letter in my diary in one of the last days we had together as a seventh-grade cohort. In one of the darkest times in my life, her love began to heal me in ways I can only appreciate in retrospect)
Pause. ‘Are you sure you want to know?’
‘Yes.’ (I swallowed)
‘Became a drug addict like her brother. Hangs out with the wrong crew. Haven’t seen her in a long time.’ [And this trend continued with the 6… 7… 8… people I asked about because of my emotional ties with them]
(I have always been non-judgemental in the way I treat people with substance abuse disorders, but it had been a calculated ‘I have no right to judge others for their different sins from mine.’ In those few seconds, I had learned to mourn for their humanity, the promise of a bright future, and the systematic circumstances that traps them in a vicious cycle. I understand that some people climb their way out of the circle using frayed ropes; hands blistered with rope-burns. But not everyone can see those ropes – and if they do, isn’t it less exhausting to stay immobile?)
I had learned that one of the brightest boys I had ever met is unemployed and left a formal education in the pursuit of… survival. I think he is doing his best just to survive. The reality of depression being higher in rural areas finally made sense to me – with all that time living away from people, where your neighbours are at least half a kilometre away from you in these wide open suburban spaces means you spend a lot of time thinking about death.
Forget being surrounded by the people you love – will you be surrounded by anyone at all?
My childhood friend had watched these people grow in increments to where they are. They have watched their little decisions, the morphing of their personalities into someone dissimilar to their younger selves, into who they are now. But I only hear from A –> B. I have not watched them grow up; I only remember the sun on their cheeks, their heights being a quarter of a door frame, and their lifeline extending into every direction.
These were the people who would conquer and reform the world, I thought, in ways that are authentic to them. No, I don’t want to know that they have not been the same since their mother passed away, giving up on their dreams of becoming a teacher for the numbness of heroin. No, please don’t tell me that they have pushed people away with a sharp tongue when they simply radiated in their primary school years. No, I refuse to believe that the only drugs they give is not as a general practitioner, but as a dealer of illicit drugs.
But it is the truth, isn’t it? I cannot hold onto the versions of people that shone the brightest to inform my own ideas of the world – to deny the existence of systematic adoption of maladaptive behaviours in rural areas. It will confront me to my own privelge – I was the rare girl in a lonely town who left it behind to pursue an advanced education in a school in metro Brisbane. The reason I can dream of becoming better is not solely because of my grit; a contributing factor is also my circumstances. It will take me some time to accept this. I’m only at the beginning of the road.