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The capricious seaming of memory

"Memory, and time, both immaterial, are rivers with no banks, and constantly merging. Both escape our will, though we depend on them. Measured, but measured by whom or by what? The one is inside, the other, outside, or so it seems, but is that true? Time seems also buried deep in us, but where? Memory is right here, in the head, but it can exit, abandon the head, leave it behind, disappear. Memory, a sanctuary of infinite patience.

Is memory produced by us, or is it us? Our identity is very likely whatever our memory decides to retain. But let’s not presume that memory is a storage room. It’s not a tool for being able to think, it’s thinking, before thinking. It also makes an (apparently) simple thing like crossing the room, possible. It’s impossible to separate it from what it remembers."

- Etel Adnan (Lebanese-American poet, essayist, philosopher, and visual artist), on the role of memory in the continuity of our personal identity

The other day I had an odd, but strangely familiar dream. I was walking down Freshie Walk, rushing to (or from) class, when I bumped into you. You were alone, and your hair was unkempt. It took me a while to recognize you, because you no longer wore your hair like that - at least outside this dream, which took me a few seconds to realize I was in. I was startled to see you coming up close, and I hesitated if I should greet you.

Then you walked up to me and said, "What are we doing here?"

"Here? You mean, in school?"

"No, I mean, here,"

And I realized in an instant that you meant this realm, this space in time where we aren't together, where our lives haven't yet found their way back to each other. The year was 2008, and it was almost Christmas - I could tell by the "Free Toki" Accenture-sponsored jeep I alighted, and the karaoke-sounding medley of yuletide songs the manong driver was playing.

"What are we doing here?" I ask again.

"Maybe this is where we wish we met,"

"But it would have changed everything."

Then, I no longer recall what happened after. After waking up, it took me a few minutes to process the dream, because it wasn't as vivid or as long as the other ones I do remember. (Truth is, I rarely have dreams, and when I do, they're often super weird. Like, Rick and Morty weird.)

Remembering dreams is such a funny thing. Especially ones that feel so real. It's literally your mind playing tricks on you. I swear, that moment of me rushing through Freshie Walk, only to slow down because I thought I recognized someone approaching me - I know it happened. I felt like it did. But somehow, my brain rewired that memory of having you in it instead, and now I kinda wish it was how it really turned out. Perhaps things would have been way different, and maybe different doesn't necessarily mean worse.

Sometimes I wish a lot of things that happened in college turned out differently. Not because I regret them, but because I think they could have been much better. And it would be nice to see an alternate timeline, where I could be another version of myself that's not exactly a stranger, but someone not as lost, or loud, or worried. I could have taken more risks, I could have been more ambitious. I would have written about you, and not have been unafraid of so many things. We could have had a lot of fun - a kind of happy that fit that time of our lives. Whereas now, we reward ourselves after work (you) and 200-pages-or-so (me) with a fancy meal, back then a banana shake would have been enough. You know, small things we never got to share because we didn't have the chance then.

This is how my mind plays with me these days. My mind is often tired, and it is running on autopilot. But it still - at least - dares to dream. Literally. It gives me things to feel happy about, thoughts to keep me company. It is not content with reading academic words on pages; it still writes its own stories every now and then.

So now, a part of me wishes to go back in time just to see how nice it would have been to share those with you. The present is great, and the future something to look forward to. But there is a bittersweet kind of longing for this past we never shared, a yearning accompanied by this curiosity, both piqued and left unsatisfied by my subconscious playing tricks on me. This is how this mind works: it remembers you in places you were never in. It is aware of its deception, but also, innocuous with its intentions. Well-meaning, even. It is very much grounded with what is real, but also, enjoys in playing with what isn't. "My memories form a forest with unstable boundaries," Adnan says. Memory sews together events that hadn’t previously met. It reshuffles the past and makes us aware that it is doing so. Sometimes, it leads to unexpected results - like seeing you in a faux memory and you knowing where we were - but always, always interesting ones.


Current location

One day, the world is going to be my oyster.

But until then, I have to stay put. This little corner where I sit shall be my universe, at least until all this is over. And I shall be content in knowing that there is beauty in this struggle.

Patience, young grasshopper.