How come what I remember of the past bears no resemblance to the memories of the people I knew while I was growing up? I get notes from people with whom I went to school. High school — even elementary school. I’d swear they went to different schools than I did — or knew someone who they identify as me, but who was not me. Not the me I know.
They have wonderful memories of our relationships. What I remember is them as the mean kids who wouldn’t even talk to me because I wasn’t one of the “cool kids.” I recall them as petty tyrants. Bullies. Yet they swear we were practically best friends. Interesting since I’m pretty sure I wasn’t invited to their parties and I’m sure we never had a civil conversation. I remember kicking one of them in the leg with the heavy, orthopedic shoes I wore — that they were making fun of. Because anyone who wasn’t like them was someone to torment.
Is my memory damaged?
I grew up in the 1950s. I get a dozen emails a week extolling that decade as “the best of the good old days.” I do not remember the 1950s as a better time. Different, but not better. Racism was rampant. Sexism and ageism weren’t even part of our vocabulary. Women and old people were treated horribly and no one was trying to fix the problem. No one thought it was something that needed fixing.
It was not a simpler time. We had less technology, but we were constantly embroiled in trying to get whatever it was we did have to work. Our refrigerators were layered in ice. Our ovens couldn’t maintain a constant temperature. Our televisions barely registered a signal, even if we were lucky enough to have a real antenna.
In fact, everyone was so happy, they were building bomb shelters in their backyards so if someone nuked us, we might survive. I doubted it. I thought I’d rather die in the big explosion than live in a hole in the ground for the rest of my life.
Clearly, those were better days.
To my mind, the social issues were at least equally complicated. As far as climate goes, we were busily polluting it. Enthusiastically polluting it, I should say. We are still cleaning up the mess we made in those good old days.
Life wasn’t easy. Assuming you had a decent job, your pay probably allowed you to live reasonably well, but a lot of people — anyone of color, for example — was lucky to get a job at all, much less one on which a family could be supported. Nor was childhood sunlight and roses. Abuse was common. Society had silent, cultural agreement to never talk about the things that happened at home. No laws protected children and no agencies interceded. As far as that goes, it hasn’t changed all that much. We’ve got laws and agencies, but essentially, kids are still on their own.
A few years ago, Garry went to his 50th high school reunion. He came back shaking his head, wondering what school they went to. It obviously wasn’t the same one he attended. I skipped my high school reunion. I kept getting notes from former classmates about the great years we enjoyed at Jamaica High School. I don’t share those memories. I remember a racially divided school with bigoted teachers and bullying classmates. Cliques of privileged kids who ostracized anyone who was different. Sad teenagers, lost between childhood and a frightening future. Looking for help from counselors who denied the existence of the problems many of us faced. They did not care.
Is it me? Am I the one who’s broken? Or am I just someone who can’t find the rosy glow of the past. I keep remembering what really happened. It ruins everything.