People are granted varied gifts. Some find that they draw really well, from an early age. Others can sing beautifully. Yet others more can dance, play the banjo or solve complex math calculations without the use of a calculator. Those are all great gifts to have, with little ‒ if any‒ downsides. Those are the…
People are granted varied gifts. Some find that they draw really well, from an early age. Others can sing beautifully. Yet others more can dance, play the banjo or solve complex math calculations without the use of a calculator. Those are all great gifts to have, with little ‒ if any‒ downsides. Those are the lucky ones. My gift is of a different kind: I do not forget. The most random dates and experiences are seared into my memory as though with a red-hot iron rod. Places and things people say are stored safely in pockets of brain space and jump out at will, as though they happened only moments ago.
This gift has been a blessing, and a curse. It has enabled me make and keep many friends. Of these, an unusually large majority have been female. As one of them so graciously explained to me recently, some females like a guy that remembers the little details of what they tell them. I remember anniversaries and tend to want to make them special. More often than not, my intentions are purely platonic. Thus I do not see the damage ‒ yes, I call it damage ‒ I do to those friendships by being so nice. On more occasions than I wish to remember, my female friends have ended up falling for me and ‒ experience being the terrible teacher that it is ‒ I still have not learnt how to extricate myself from those sticky situations without hurting others.
Remembering, for me, has always come with pain, far more often than it has, pleasure. Over a prolonged period, during my teenage years, I suffered from having a particularly depressive personality. I was in a perpetual haze, sleep-walking, existing just because that was the only option. And through it all, I never forgot each bad event that happened, each seemingly further proof that this world was not for me, and I was cursed in some way. Being fairly young at the time, I had little understanding of what was happening to me.
I had these images of death dancing in my head, and their familiarity became comforting. I would look around and see things not for what they were, but as an accessory to ending the pain I felt. Permanently. Remembering each moment of my pain made it harder to let go, as whenever I made any attempt to move on, I got swamped by the memories, in which I at once felt comfortable and uncomfortable.
These memories, these emotions, are the reason I found it hard to have regular romantic relationships. When I thought I was ready for one, I playfully asked Sally out. We had been friends for about two years and she was “Bug” to me. The date was September 26th. We had grown closer over the preceding month or so, and had become very regular chat-pals. In the midst of one of our endless chats, I felt some courage and asked her whether I could call. She agreed. And so I did. In my nerdy and inexperienced way, I asked “Do you want to be, like, more than just friends?” What did that even mean? Was I truly ready? What if she turned me down? But there was this pleasure in having taken a plunge I had as yet not taken. It felt liberating, in some way.
And when she said “Uhmm… Yes. I do”, I was not sure what to say. In my head, I had been far more prepared for her saying “No, Ace. I like you, but I think we should wait a while to know what this is.” And so I did a weird thing. I asked her “Wait, do you know what you’re saying yes to? You know that was me asking you out, right? Do you really want to date me?” And again, she affirmed that her answer was “yes”. I have never forgotten that day. The heartbreak that was to come soon after and the funk I fell into only served to make that day, and every other day we were together, indelible. On October 19th, a Saturday, she told me that she loved me. That was the first time either of us had brought up the idea of love. All I said in response was “Okay, thank you for saying that, Bug”.
On November 25th, a day before I was to travel for ten days, for an event in a neighbouring state, I tried telling her that I loved her and the words got stuck in my throat. I had never told anyone I loved them, not even any member of my family. The idea of loving someone had always seemed strange to me, something other people did, and I watched. So, I used my fingers to lightly inscribe “I.L.U.” on her skin of her left hand, as I held her head to my chest. On December 9th, I tried calling her to fix a date, and she declined. I would not see her again until the following year.
On January 25th, she showed up, unannounced, to my room. As she slept quietly in my arms, I whispered those darned words into her ears, thinking she would not hear me. That was the hardest thing I had ever done. It felt as though I was ripping my heart out and handing it to her, saying: “Here it is. Please, take good care of it. Do not hurt me”. But I knew she would hurt me. She already had. When she finally stirred, she looked at me ‒ with those big, round, puppy-dog eyes I had grown to love ‒ and asked “Did you mean that?” I nodded, and for some reason, I felt my throat constrict and my chest heavy. I had finally felt what love and I did not like it. I felt vulnerable and weak. I was not used to the feeling. I did not know how to handle it. And I said “I had to tell you. Whether we work out together or not, it does not matter to me. I love you, Bug, and I want the best for you. I’d always be your number one fan, cheering for you to succeed at everything you do.” And she smiled and said “Thank you.”
And when we parted ways that day, I knew it was to be the last day she would be mine. I had known that she was scared, of a lot of things. We both had demons we were fighting, one of hers being the recent loss of her mother. And our demons were too many to coexist peacefully. We never broke up, officially. She just walked away, without explanation. And I understood, even I did not. I was paralysed by that loss, and I felt that emptiness that comes when you build someone into your future and that someone exits abruptly.
Because of her, I had worked hard to overcome my depression. I had started trying to live life normally, to enjoy the days, to see the joy in music and not just sadness. For the first time, I had pictured having a family of my own, two boys and a girl, with her by my side. When she walked away, I did not know how to handle the space suddenly present. When I tried reading, I would be overwhelmed with images of her. And tears would drop down, ruining the pages of the books. That year was to be my worst year, in many respects. Everything suffered. And I made so many mistakes, in my bid to fill that emptiness.
The next year, after the centre of the storm had passed and I had started healing, we became friends again. By March, she wrote me a note, explaining why she walked away, and why she wanted me back. And I understood, as I did in the first instance, even if I did not. After talking it through, a large part of me wanted to be back with her as I still loved her ‒ I always will. Another part of me knew I could not trust her not to walk away again. And given my tendency to fall into depression, I was unsure of how I would handle that consequence. So, I told her my thoughts. I told her I was making the decision for her good and mine. I did not want to be hurt again, and she did not deserve to not be trusted. She was saddened. But she understood. And we moved on.
Each of those days remains clear in my memory. I have since had flings here and there. But that experience fundamentally changed me as a person. I became more attuned to purely physical relationships in which I was protected from the emotional turmoil that is customary in regular relationships. I became more open and less shy, experiencing things that I never had thought I would. Those felt good on the surface, but I recognized the vacuum beneath it all. I wanted to love and be loved. I wanted to trust and be loyal to one person, to be comfortable enough to share my dreams with one person and know that we both would encourage the other. I wanted to have that one person for whom I was everything. And even if I could not forget the pain I once felt, I wanted to move forward and make a new life.
After all, what is a life without pain? It is in suffering loss that we find new appreciation for the good in our lives, the people we call friends and family, the pleasure of seeing the sun rise early in the morning or the trees swaying sideways as the late evening breeze flutters by. These are the things I do not want to forget. And if the blessing of memory is accompanied by the curse of pain, it is one which I hope to bear, with fortitude and appreciation.