If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still see the deep, rich hazel of her eyes. I can feel her hair tickling my neck as she rests her head on my shoulders. If I take a deep enough breath I can still catch a slight trace of her scent in the air. Sweet with a tinge of melancholy. In the most profound and all-encompassing silences of the night, her laughter echoes, and in my weakest and most desperate moments, I can hear her calling me ‘baby’ again.
That is the beauty, and the burden, of memory. What’s more, as a storyteller, a writer, a creator, I cling to these scars like bubbling wells when I might feel thirsty or starved for inspiration. I am, for the most part, free of the emotions of these memories. When they first started popping up, I felt like a lost lonely little child in a haunted house, surrounded by the ghosts of something long dead and gone. But I’ve grown up and realized that these are benign ghosts, more like tragic tapes on permanent playback than harmful poltergeists. They are no longer intruders upon my house, but fixtures, like a chandelier that creaks in the wind or a squeaky floorboard. I can walk and weave my way through them, letting them pop up and occupy my mind for a few seconds before floating away, like wisps in the wind. I don’t think I could ever truly be entirely free of them; the memories are too distinct, too significant, too much a part of my life to be forgotten, like the name of my favorite stuffed bear when I was a tiny baby. What life, love, or longing is gone, but Beautiful remains.
And I’ve often wondered if I’d be better off forgetting it all. Freeing myself of even the seemingly benign burden of slight reminders. To say goodbye permanently to the good, the bad, and the ugly of what, seven years more or less of an intertwined story? Would my life be better, would any of our lives be better, if we possessed the ability and the luxury of wiping from our memory all of the failed, faded, or lost loves of our lives.
Now this is not a new concept. And it’s heavily and thoroughly investigated in one of my
all-time favorite movies, it’s come up before once or twice on the blog I believe, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. After a painful breakup two former lovers undergo a procedure to erase each other from their minds, only to run into each other and contemplate the possibilities of being together, knowing what could possibly await them again.
I mean, the immediate appeal is there, for sure. There would be no painful reminders. No fear of going back to some place and falling into some emotionally deep memory that you can barely get yourself out of. In the beginning of it all I might have gladly taken the option. I would have found myself in more places around my home, places I’d barred for fear of feeling too attached to the memories they brought up. Anyone who’s gone through a painful breakup can relate to that desire of wanting to just be rid of it all. Usually it is because we focus so much on the good times, the perfect moments, the snapshots, that we then idealize and gild them until they are placed on a pedestal of unrealistic proportions. The more we focus on these moments, the more we miss them, the deeper the hurt. And yet we go back to them, again and again. Why? Because a familiar pain is better than an unknown one. Why not wallow in the familiar sting of long lost love when the alternative is to go back out into the world and open yourself up to newer, potentially deeper, scars? So, burdened with the memory, we live in pain. Wouldn’t forgetting free us, then? Wouldn’t it allow us that blissful ignorance, hopeful optimism, necessary to chase after the love we once wanted? But it doesn’t work so well. Case in point, look at the characters in the movie. Look at Kirsten Dunst playing the doe-eyed assistant in love with her married doctor boss Tom Wilkinson. Spoiler alert: near the film’s conclusion we learn that the two of them have had an affair already previously, and here they are in the same situation once more. ‘Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it’. What if the price of forgetting our follies is being stuck, like those ghosts, in permanent playback, doomed to constantly chase after the same, make the same mistakes, and run away from the same problems?
Up until now, I’ve lived in that sort of realm of possibility. I’ve only ever wondered, ‘what if I could forget’. And it is partly because I’ve never had an alternative to consider. Until that is, I watched Netflix’s show Black Mirror, and in particular the episode The Entire History of You. A wonderful piece of technology from the future, only referred to as a ‘grain’, allows its users to capture everything they ever see and play it back either in their minds or on screens in homes and at offices. An infinite playback reel going back to infancy, capturing every moment, every nuance, in picture-perfect real-life definition. It lets people replay interviews to analyze how well it went, watch a baby’s feed to make sure the babysitter was gentle and safe, or even play back those better moments of past relationships. But total recall comes at a price, the price of security, privacy, trust, but most surprisingly, happiness.
As one pro-grain user in the episode says, ‘half the organic memories you have are junk’. It can’t be trusted. How many memories have we blown out of proportions. How many childhood lakes as large as oceans and filled with pristine beautiful blue waters have turned out to be shallow mucky ponds in adulthood? Wouldn’t it be better to have preserved everything as it truly was. There’d be no doubt, no worry. I could replay over and over, again and again, catch myself browsing ‘redos’ in my mind until I go dizzy. I’d catch the moments in picture perfect clarity, to bask in past glory or to fanaticize over failures. But then again…that’s the problem. I’d catch the moments in picture perfect clarity, or fanatacize over my failures. There is this wonderfully poignant scene where the main couple are making actual real love in real life, but the movements are generic, uninspired, mechanical, their eyes glazed over as if possessed, because rather than engage in the now, they are both independently playing ‘redos’ in their mind of better, more passionate, earlier times of having sex rather than trying to capture that now. And how many of us would be guilty of choosing to relive the past rather than appreciate the present. And with permanent records, how many could resist the temptation to go back to fantasies and memories of past loves. Or grill our partners on their past. With the power and the ability to project exact memories, how many of us could resist digging into that even knowing full well how painful those memories could be? The history of your partner is right there at your fingertips. You know it could possibly hurt you, maybe even too much to handle, and yet…the temptation. The possibility. The all-too-familiar pain.
And so I pose to you this conundrum. What would you rather have. In what world would you rather live. How best do you move on. Would you rather forget everything after a breakup, or have everything captured forever. Total recall, or total wipe.
And, before some of you answer, while you are contemplating this over your morning toast and tea, I say you must choose one or the other. Making a choice, to remember or to forget, reveals a lot. Remaining neutral does not. So, no ‘neither, because I believe you can make new and better memories with the right person that will override past memories and I need to remember the past to learn from my mistakes’. Sorry, can’t play both sides. Hahah. (Just teasing, but yes, you will need to make a choice. :P)
Man: 176 Loneliness: 32