Saturday, May 08, 2010

If you can remember the '90s you weren't really there, man

Like it? 

A while ago, someone I work with emailed me this photograph. Pictured are three young people standing on an urban street corner, arm in arm, body language comfortable, sporting the latest in late-March 1995 fashion and comporting themselves like a lot of late-teens/early-twenties kids on street corners who hang all over each other posing into cameras. The subject line of her email was, "Did you remember?"

My co-worker (let's call her N.) works in a different city, at a different newspaper, but we have very similar jobs in the same company. N. visited my office once, years ago. We talked for a few minutes as strangers but then were both struck by deja vu and stared at each other, trying to place the other somewhere in space/time. After some quick back-and-forth questioning we figured out we'd both gone to the same undergraduate school at the same time. We must have seen each other in the dorms or the cafeteria or at a party at some point, we decided. And here we were working for the same company in more or less the same position. Small world.


Back to the photograph she sent me. Here's what I know. The co-worker who sent this to me, N., is the young woman in the center. I recognized the well-groomed fellow at right as some guy who went to the same college we did, a guy I knew of but didn't really know -- a friend of a friend, let's call him J. The overpass in the background I recall very well from walking constantly in this area -- it's in Boston, around Commonwealth Avenue at Charlesgate West, facing east. I lived right near this spot for about a year.

The guy on the left is me. I am the guy on the left. The person in the flannel shirt giving the thumbs-up is myself.

But I have no memory of this photo and no memory of the day it was taken. I don't remember ever spending time with either of these people. I don't know where the four of us were going or what we would do when we got there -- I say four because there was obviously a photographer but I can't imagine who that person was.

In fact, digging through my memories of college, I still maintain that I did not know N. beyond spotting her as a familiar face in public areas, and J. was a friend of a friend. I must have traveled in a completely different social circle because I know almost nothing about these people. I know they're very nice people -- I just don't really know them. Even now, I couldn't tell you anything about them except their names.

Please note that I don't mind -- if I was friends with them and headed toward Kenmore Square somewhere to do something, that's OK. I just wish I could remember it.

But there I am with my arm around them, head inclined in, giving a thumbs-up, in a flannel shirt I had for years. I've seen myself in mirrors and pictures enough to recognize that unsmiling air of stupid ironic detachment as all mine.

Yet at the same time I don't recognize myself, because if I did I'd know exactly what I was doing there. That's some stranger who looks a lot like me at 18. He has my hair, my face, my sunglasses, my thumb, my flannel shirt, but that's some other guy. Handsome son of a bitch, but that's not me.

He brought his own T-shirt. I don't recall that T-shirt, and the photo is too blurry to make out what it is. It looks to me like "...ankanim..." but I don't know what that could be.

And why am I wearing headphones in this photo? Was I listening to music at the time we were walking around? I do that a lot. That must have been rude. I'm sorry to N. and J., the well-groomed guy, and whoever the photographer is. Whoever that guy is, he must have been a real fuck-wit.

This photo has bothered me for some time because I don't like the feeling of seeing a picture of myself and not recalling the incident of the photograph at all. It's like an out-of-body experience, or like finding out I have a double. I have problems enough with self-identity as it is -- people are always mistaking me for someone different, or seeing a person who looks exactly like me, or else remembering things about me that I don't. Or maybe I don't like knowing that my memory is strange. I can recall with perfect clarity being an infant, maybe 1 or 2 years old, sitting on the carpet of my dining room and sticking my right big toe into the opening of an empty 2-liter Sprite bottle.  But I don't remember this picture.

Or else the Sprite bottle memory is false too. It's possible -- why would I remember that? How did I get a bottle when I was 1 or 2? How did I put my own toe in the bottle? Why do I remember the bottle opening barely fitting my big toe, when my toe must have been much smaller? Was this a dream I had, or did this incident happen in some way that's nothing like what I recall so vividly, or did I inadvertently make it up entirely? I don't remember.

Which leads to the conclusion that you can't trust anything either you remember or you don't remember.

Which is why you should always take pictures.

2 comments:

funderson said...

I've had the same experience.... I don't remember A LOT of things and have never done any drugs so I think I'm just good at repressing things that as far as I can tell don't need repressing. That or I'm just dumb??

Dan said...

It can't the "dumb" thing.

I've never done any drugs either (honest), and I wasn't drinking around the time of this photo -- so it must be either I wasn't paying attention or this is a handsome doppelganger.

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