Sunday, December 24, 2017
The anniversary effect.
A psychological phenomena wherein a person remembers a trauma or other upsetting event more powerfully on the same day each year on which it originally happened-- no.
That's not accurate. It's not about remembering, per se. Sometimes, you don't remember at all. Sometimes, it's not about your mind actively thinking of a thing. It's about your body knowing it. It's about the imprint that the events of our lives leave on our whole selves, our bodies and our minds and our spirits, all as one. It's about the physical reality of the seasons and the instinctual connection we have to the rhythms of the world.
Something happened. It happened in a particular time and space. And that time was marked by the length of the day and the temperature in the air and the smells of the plants. That time was marked by the spot in space where the earth spun at that moment. There was a physical reality enveloping that event, and your body was aware of it on some level that your conscious mind never was. But it will get close to the same every year, once a year. And your body will be aware of that, again.
And that moment will come back to you--whether you know it or not, whether or not you're thinking about it-- that moment will come back, and affect you again and again.
I suppose that it only requires that metaphysical an explanation if you don't actually remember it, though. If you do, it's all so pedestrian in nature: you just feel sad because of the memory. It's interesting to think of, I guess, that these two separate responses aren't actually separate at all-- they are just the before and after of our brain's egocentric distortion. The universe creates this magic connection between the energy of the world and the energy of our bodies, and the moment we realize it's happening, our conscious mind reduces it to something wholly self-involved and unremarkable: We aren't feeling the rhythms of the universe with the incalculably sensitive instrument that is our body. We are just remembering our own petty, tragic lives.
But enough with the commentary about the nature of life and existence itself. This was supposed to be about me.
It's Christmas Eve. On a broad, cultural level, it's the anniversary the night that Joseph and Mary went from inn to inn looking for a room to house Mary as she gave birth to the savior king. As a society, however, we're so removed from that story that it doesn't even matter that it never actually happened in December, even if you do believe it happened at all. Broadly and culturally, that's merely the origin story of oft-commercialized superhero in a big red suit. Nevertheless, whether it's the manger scene that pulls at your heart strings, or the vision of Santa Claus, or that one scene in the Peanuts Christmas special where Linus recites a bible verse in humble explanation of what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown-- nevertheless, it is a time of year that unites us all, somehow, in a shared reverence for something, something.
I think many of us, if not most, grow up to share the experience of the loss of the joy of Christmas. When you are a child, it's special and magic. Then, little by little, as the myths become exposed and the garish, physical realities become more undeniable, it fades away. By the time you're in your twenties and shopping for presents with a handful of too-hard-earned cash, it's usually gone, replaced by a melancholy at the hollowness and some impotent desire to find it again. The mythos goes, however, that it is revived anew when we grow to have our own children, and are able to experience it once more through their eyes.
Four years and five days ago, I had a child of my own. And he's in the other room now, with his father, and his new brother. And I desperately want to be with them, to be feeling what I am meant to feel this time of year-- what I was promised I would feel. But I am not.
I am not, because there is another anniversary. An anniversary that, against all of my will, seems to supersede that of Mary and Joseph and the inn, supersedes those of Santa's countless flights. Supersedes the memory of all those idyllic childhood Christmases, the nativity scene set up in my grandmother's stone fireplace and last-minute tree decorating my father insisted upon.
I remember the day the envelope came in the mail, sometime in October. I remember me, seven months pregnant or so, sitting on the couch, seeing that it was from the court, opening it. I remember the gasp and shouting "No!" with sheer horror. I remember my family asking what was wrong.
"The divorce," I said, tearfully. "They set the divorce hearing for Christmas Eve."
I can count so easily the exact amount of time it's been since I divorced my best friend. I know how old my son is-- he turned four last week-- and I know that it's Christmas Eve. Mine and Zack's marriage was officially dissolved four years ago today.
I want not to put undo emphasis on that day. As must be true of every divorce, our marriage had fallen apart well before that. Long enough that, if you don't know, the son born five days earlier was not his, nor were we in any way still functionally together when I first became pregnant. We had separated, if I am remembering my timeline accurately, nearly two full years before, and made the final decision to end the marriage fully eighteen months prior. So it should have been that I was thoroughly ready by the time December 24th, 2013 came around.
The reality is that very little of that final eighteen months was blessed with the clarity of the moment where we first made the excruciating decision to take off our rings. The reality is that almost none of my life has ever been blessed with such sureness, and for good reason, I suppose: the harder something is to do, the more certain you must be to make yourself do it. And I don't know that anything has ever been harder for me than making the decision to end my marriage to Zack.
There's much I could say here about the reasons we broke up, and how they never once undermined our love for each other. There's much I could say here about two people just not being able to make it work, two people who only want to stop hurting each other before the damage becomes too great. There's so much to be said about everything we were, and so much to be grateful for, in spite of it all, for everything we still are.
But I've said that all before, and I'll say it all again when the moment demands it. That moment is not right now.
Right now is the time that I need to write through this grief at it's most basic level, so that I can get back to my children on Christmas Eve. Right now is the time that I need to let my fingers on the keyboard release the pain and regret that my children are not his children. Right now is the time I need to let go of the guilt of even thinking that, and let myself think it, so it can be thought, so it can be written, so it can be out. Right now, I need to listen to my own breaking voice as I read this out loud as I type it while tears stream down my face; I need to hear myself declare the truth: that I miss him so, so much.
Right now, I need to let the seasons and the length of the day and the smell in the air bring me back to that courthouse, to our final, tearful kiss just before we signed the paper that somehow ended the last ten years of our lives. Right now, I need to balance how enormous that was-- the official end of our marriage-- with how insignificant it was: we are not a paper to be signed and notarized and made official. We are not a marriage that can be disolved. We are honesty, and intimacy, and love. And we love each other, still.
The full truth is that there was more than that happening for me on that day-- the sun was shining a particular way and there were other sounds and other people, and I was suffering deeply from the pain of a traumatic birth experience just five days prior. The full truth is that there is more than just the ghost of my marriage haunting me this time of year. The full truth is that there's context upon top of context, and not everything that makes me sad on Christmas Eve has to do with Zack.
Yet, somehow, that's both more and less true. Sometimes, you have to be true to a moment in time, and let yourself feel what feel's relevant, and ignore the context and the history and the smell of the plants in the air. Sometimes you must trust yourself to forget all that, knowing your body will remember it for you.
Right now, the only memories that feel relevant are those of him, and I, and Christmas-- Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve where we were given the gift of just enough certainty, in a moment, to sign the papers that we needed to sign.
Every year, it leaves me feeling hollow. Ever year, it supersedes all else, despite all I do to fight that. So today, an hour or so ago, I decided not to fight it anymore. The pain is so great, so omnipresent. All that's really left to do is lean into it.
An hour or so again, I put on headphones and made the choice to listen to Joni Mitchell's River. It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees. I'm putting on headphones and listening to songs to help me find peace.
I made my baby cry.
I'm listening now, but now it's time to switch. To another river, a Moon River. We danced on our wedding day, and it was our song, and it was always our song. It's really the most melancholy and beautiful song ever written, and so were we. Melancholy and beautiful.
We're after the same rainbow's end.
I lean my head back and close my eyes. I let it wash over me. I breath deeply, and I exhale. I let it out.
Zack is my origin story. Zack is the thing that pulls at my heartstrings. And Zack will come back to me, whether or not I know it, and effect me again and again. He is part of my connection to the universe, and he is part of the story of my petty, tragic life.
But today is not December 24th, 2013. Today is December 24th, 2017. And those words from the song-- I made my baby cry-- have more literal echoes coming from the next room, so it's time to get up and go to him, the newest and littlest him of my life.
I've done my remembering for today. Let's see if I can manage to make another memory, a happier one to look back on another year. Not a better one, but happier.
On with it.