You wake up with the groggy weight of just having had a bad dream. In between sleep and consciousness, you try to remember what was so bad about it. It might be less than half a second, but it holds you for an eternity. What happened? And then it all comes rushing back. A cloud washes over you, everything looks more gray than before, and your head feels so heavy your neck could break—why won’t it just break?
Is it an affair if it’s ten years long?
It began when I was six.
To learn that my father had another life for most of the time that our family had been a family is an experience that I still cannot articulate well. Someone who I trusted, admired, loved, and thought I knew. Someone who I thought I knew.
What followed was both clarity and confusion. Clarity in that everything before was a dream, and that this nightmare was the reality. Confusion that the reality was this. I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine. If you say it fast, it sounds like I’m fighting I’m fighting I’m fighting I’m fighting I’m fighting.
A redeeming quality of tragedy: people come together to share the weight of it. But the pressure blew my family apart. We became islands. The silence screamed as the fear of breaking and burdening each other became oceans between us.
It felt even more like an absurd drama, or some alternate reality light years away, when the woman evolved from a mere concept into a person. She found me on every virtual media platform: email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, MySpace (!!!). She fervently reached across the Pacific, posted photos of me, contacted my friends, echoed in my head as she told me
They’ll all know— I will get him fired.
I was more exasperated than anything.
Haven’t you done enough? I wondered.
I confided in no one. To friends who asked me about these odd messages from a woman who claimed to know me, I’d laugh it off, insist it was spam or a hacked account. I thought that the moment my truthful words entered someone else’s ears, all of it would become real. Slither out of the realm of imagination and into the tangible world. As if it wasn’t real already, as if I would be safer if I kept it trapped in my mind. Despite my attempts to isolate that part of my life from the rest of my life, all it did was fuck with me more than if I had said something… anything.
For a while, I felt like I was floating in interactions with people, as if my consciousness was confused as to where it should be. Not in my own body, because even that was foreign to me as I emptily went through the motions of what felt like a previous life. I hovered by my own shoulder, cautiously watching my every interaction, worried that someone would call me out on my lousy imitation of myself. This was my futile attempt to control my reality as much as I could, but it ended up feeling more real than anything in this world.
What followed was the tainting of memories, the reconfiguring of what had felt real in my past. I was sifting through everything and seeing every grain in a different light. How did no one know for an entire decade? He’s the same person… but not at all? How much money was going toward his other life?
Combing through my past, I ask, what do my memories mean if they feel so different now? In what ways am I subconsciously altering my own reality? One by one, each memory falls away into oblivion, but not before shattering into shards of glass, the fragments searing through my eyes.
Summer. The beautiful white tissue-flowers that my brother loves are in full bloom. I know he loves them because one time they were cut down and he cried. The tissue-flowers line the pool. I’m small. I’m swimming with my father. I get on his back and we dive down. I feel like 浦島太郎 on his adventure-friend the turtle, about to discover the underwater kingdom of dancing ladies in floaty garments and endless fish to eat. I feel like I’m soaring, effortlessly passing through the water, hanging on to my father’s shoulders. We glide from the shallow end to the deep end. I feel the pressure building in my ears, but I don’t care. We’re headed to the kingdom.
I questioned the legitimacy of every memory I have. I can’t help but see this moment, and every moment, as less sunny, less soaring. But if I close my eyes, I can still smell the flowers, feel the gliding of water and skin. It feels as fantastical as the fairy tale that I imagined I was in. As I powerlessly watch the unraveling and rewriting of my own history I wonder: does it matter what really happened?
Sifting through memories now, I hold each one tightly. It does matter—every memory is nuanced, complicated, and foundational to our very being. They are fluid in nature. I’ve come to understand that how you live your memory now is the most important. Our memories are very much governed by the present—re-made, re-thought by the present you. Understood in different ways with the experiences that come afterward. So why do we say that the past is “behind” us—why claim that we live experiences linearly—when it is in us, all around us, changing with us?