In the interest of updates/reassurance: this weekend has been really quite wonderful, and it’s getting easier and easier to feel assimilated. My host family consists of some of the most absolutely genuine and kind people I’ve ever met. The boys (mis hermanitos!) are so eager to help me when I can’t remember the word for something; we went for a walk through el Parque del Retiro and Matéo quizzed me on the vocab for duck (el pato), tree (el árbol), and glass (I couldn’t remember that one, but it’s el vidrio).
We also walked around the more commercial area of the city, saturated with shops, sunlight and beautiful buildings in muted colors. Amidst all this, I was absolutely thrilled to see a Dunkin’ Donuts—the ridiculousness of which only struck me later on.
This little beacon of familiarity was so strange to come across, partly because I didn’t expect to see it, but mostly because it triggered twenty different thoughts and memories at once. It made me think of my three best friends at school, Boston, finals week, all-nighters, football, cold hands, when Nihal used to buy a large coffee just so we could share it while studying. And then, sadistically, it made me think of my ex-boyfriend. Not because we ever went to Dunkin’ or even drank coffee together (I was less of a caffeine addict back then), but because this stream of triggered consciousness was all too familiar. There was a solid year that I couldn’t drive by myself through my hometown without feeling completely hollow; every place I saw reminded me of a moment spent with him.
We’re so complacent in our remembering. We never want to drive past a street sign or a restaurant or a fucking bank parking lot and be assaulted with memories of What Once Was. But we, as human subjects, actively constitute reality through performance, recreation, and association. We are building memories on memories every single second; the mind interacts with the universe and shapes it. There is an open-endedness. And suddenly, a bank parking lot is so much more than a bank parking lot.
I’ve heard the phrase, “nostalgia is a dirty liar that insists things were better than they were,” and I completely agree. I can assure you that I knew, even during the sharpness of December, the redemption of January, that in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend we were built to hurt and be hurt. It was a nice frame, really. It was the kind of maddening love everyone seems to want—no emotion went unturned, nothing was mediocre. Everything was too humid, too harsh. It hurt. But that’s not what I thought about during the heartbreak months, I thought about "Pet Sounds" by the Beach Boys and flower bouquets and The Graduate. I thought only about the honey and not about the blood. I learned that night is endless for those who don’t seek more, and dwelling in endless night breeds reptiles of the mind.
Revisionist history is a tricky thing. It keeps us from progress, it drags us backwards. You build childhood homes in your mind around the people you once loved, and through some twisted series of self-thwarting, they become untouchable. They’re crystallized as places you cannot go back to but always want to anyway.
People will let you down if you idolize them, almost invariably, but the memories of people even more so. T.S. Eliot said it best (and by a stroke of genius, through the voice of a character known only as Unidentified Guest):
Ah, but we die to each other daily. / What we know of other people / Is only our memory of the moments / During which we knew them. And they have changed since then. / To pretend that they and we are the same / Is a useful and convenient social convention / Which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember / That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.
It’s so important to root yourself in the Being of This Moment. To feel like doors, rather than wounds. Constantly longing for the past should be reserved only for Jay Gatsby and people who peaked in high school (tragic). Going to Dunkin’ Donuts in Madrid just because of my routine Bostonian habit is SO RIDICULOUS like, do you KNOW how many cute coffee shops there are in this city??? I can’t wait to find them all. Stay tuned.