In my room, I have a poster of a panorama of Paris from the top of the Notre Dame, and I see it every day and hardly look at it. But when I do pay attention, I see buildings I used to see every day. I hardly looked at them then. But there were times when I stood on the bridges depicted in that poster and gazed around me, drinking it in.
Frequently I remember my time in Paris. Much of the time, it is a wash—I recall an event that happened there and little emotion is carried with it. But other times I think of my neighborhood, my apartment, my bed and the view from it, and an ache twists my stomach.
Are we a mosaic of our thoughts and memories?
On the phone with my boyfriend the other day, we discussed how we could still name the stops on the One metro line. It held most of the tourist destinations: Charles de Gaulle Étoile (where the Arc de Triomphe lives), Tuileries, Musée de Louvre, St. Paul (in Le Marais). The yellow vein on the map is still readily accessible in my mine, as are the bright chairs on the recently remodeled line. We discussed the commute from school to my apartment. I can remember how I used to count my steps from the metro to my front door when I trudged up the hill with groceries in my hands.
For some reason there is a part of me that is still there, even though I am present in my life in New York. When I think of Paris, there is a variation between a rush of devastation and a persisting numbness. I know exactly why the numbness is there: I keep feeling that I am going back. I promised myself I would, but I don’t know when. Part of me feels like I will wake up tomorrow in my small blue room.
Some times in your life seem to call you back to them more than others. It’s as if you keep wrapping around these things, over and over, until they are bigger knots, and your life is like one tangled rope.
I have recently started to take note of the memories that I have. Not memories of long experiences, but the flashes of short moments that I recall with extreme clarity. In the past few months I’ve started to think about why those are the moments that stuck in my mind. Why are those little pictures the ones I carry with me?
I remember laying on my front lawn on the last day of spring break in sixth grade. I was reading a book and lying on my stomach in the sun. I remember rolling onto my back and closing my eyes and feeling the warmth on my skin. It must have been hot for April that year. I remember trying to tell myself to soak in the last day of freedom. I didn’t like school very much then.
Why would I remember that?
I also remember the exact expression on my boyfriend’s face when he told me he loved me the first time. We’d been walking along a bridge without speaking, and then he’d turned and took my face in his hands and said it. I’d been astonished. Of course I remember that.
I remember the salad I had on my first night at NYU. I ate it at Palladium dining hall with my roommate and my suitemate. I hadn’t known how the meal plan worked. I had beets on the salad and remember looking down at it and saying to myself, “this is your first college meal.” Earlier that day, at lunchtime, I’d been talking with my parents when my father asked me if we should finish up so he and my mom could start driving home. Their departure shocked me even though I’d been preparing for it.
Why are these the pictures I have of my past?
I wonder what my memories of things will be years from now. Studies of memory suggest that we don’t remember actual events, we remember the last time we remembered them. With the internet, I wonder how much clearer our memories will be later. Will our lives seem more positive because of the gloss we place on things online? I am an avid—to say the least—instagrammer. It’s been said I have a problem. I like pretty things, I like cities and architecture, I love flowers and colors and kissing. These “nice” things take up more space on my account than days I fall into muddy icy puddles (like today). These are little chinks into my life. People who follow me who I haven’t spoken to in years either know I have literal and figurative filters over everything, or they truly believe my life is only beautiful.
Years from now, I won’t remember most of today. I probably won’t remember making coffee or working out, or eating breakfast in a coffee shop. I might remember falling in that puddle. Maybe I’ll remember saying hello to two friends I ran into. I certainly will not remember my five-hundredth shift in the Vocal Performance office. I’ll absolutely remember later tonight, when my boyfriend arrives from California.
You know who you are because of your memory. Your likes and dislieks are based on memories of your experiences with these things. Your relationships are closer or more distant because of memory, and you can maintain friendships over years because you don’t forget good times you shared years before. But why do we remember what we do?
If we define ourselves through our memories, do we choose what we remember? Trauma victims block things out; do we also block out inconsequential things that we do not wish to carry with us? Maybe I like to take pictures of things and write them down so that I remember everything. I’ve never been good with goodbyes, and hate a lack of control. Am I trying to remember absolutely everything? Knowing I can’t, am I trying to have as much control over what I remember as I can?