Thursday, December 28, 2006

In Memoriam

I have a friend, Diane, who is an anniversary junkie. She remembers, and celebrates in however small a way, every milestone that recurs throughout the year. It used to amuse me a little when she would say to me "I have to get a card for my husband - today is the anniversary of the first time we made up after a fight." Or, "Ten years ago today I got my letter of acceptance from UVic." She even celebrated anniversaries from an old relationship with her previous boyfriend, though he was long gone and she was married to someone else. I thought she was being a bit oversentimental.

As the years of our friendship (now thirteen and a third of them) passed and she became more important to me, I understood her better. She began to give me cards, and little presents, to mark my life's milestones as well as hers. The first time this happened I was surprised, and pleased, and touched by her thoughtfulness. It gave me a new perspective on what I had previously thought a little silly - the fact that she remembered my important moments was proof of her love and friendship, and of the real interest she took in my life.

Last year she called me to say that she was celebrating again. I couldn't think what the date was - it was a new one for me. She didn't sound all that happy either, but I knew it wasn't the anniversary of her divorce, which was still months away. "I give up," I said, "what's the occasion?"
"It's the day I found out Mr. Me was cheating." She had come home from a four-day work trip to find that, in her absence, an office flirt of her husband's had come over "just to talk, but one thing sort of led to another..." and she was no longer loved, or wanted. Within a week the new woman had left her young children and their father, and was installed in Diane's house, while she was sleeping on her sister's couch, devastated.

This phone call from her brought up all of the anger I felt when it had first happened, although I had been relieved that the relationship was over and she could try to find someone who could keep his fists to himself. I stood there, trying to think what to say, when she went on. "So it's also the anniversary of the day I realized you were right all along, and I thought I should call you."

I confess I descended into some unladylike language, and some bitter remarks that, while they relieved my feelings, were hardly conducive to healing or forgiveness. She heard me out, and agreed with me in a mild way, but then said "You know, it was bad, but I'm not upset. At least he told me right away...and it gave me a chance to be alone, and sort of take my life in a different direction. I never would have gone back for my degree if this hadn't happened. So I'm glad, in a way, even though I still cry about it sometimes."

It struck me that her whole attitude towards life is as a series of learning experiences which, taken together, have made her who she is. It wouldn't be right to try to forget, or even to simply not acknowledge, the anniversary of a painful or sad event, just as it would be wrong to forget the day your child was born, or the time your boyfriend became your fiance, or the day you got the keys to your first house.

The truth is that celebrating these anniversaries is a way of looking back over one's life, surveying it as a landscape through which one has travelled. I can see the important dates as obstacles I have overcome, or high points that exhilarated me -- or pitfalls I did not, after all, manage to avoid. This map of memory stands as a commemoration of my past, a reminder of life's lessons learned, and a series of warnings or encouragements for the future. When I approach the end of life, or the end of a stage of life, I want to have what Diane has: a wealth of experience hard-won, to serve as my guide for whatever is to come.

Today it has been 16 years since my first kiss. I couldn't begin to count the ways in which I'm different now to what I was then - everything is more, and also less, than it used to be. That moment is such a small thing, now, that I find it funny how important it was at the time. I have to mourn the loss of the youthful thrill - I don't know that I feel anything quite as intensely as I used to - but I'm also terribly glad to be spared the heart throbs that came along with all that 17-year-old excitement.

"One remembers one's own first love, with a tiny pang -- and such infinite thankfulness."

- Georgette Heyer, A Civil Contract

I wish I could see you again, but I'm afraid I might...I miss you, and I'm so very, very glad you're gone.

Life's complicated.


Kate said...

Oh Shan. So personal, thank you for sharing this piece of yourself.

Susan Hird said...

Wow, what a profound blog. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Gwen said...

I started to leave a chipper, "Hey, how is Diane anyway?" kind of comment, in order to disguise my emotional reaction to this post. I aspire to the kind of attitude Diane has, and wish I could remember to keep this perspective in the midst of hardships. I, too, prefer to leave painful memories buried and celebrate only the happy times; I see now that that might be unhealthy.

Good post.