The Ides of Memory

I got into a swivet last week.

“Lady Eve’s Indiscretion” hit the shelves, and in the law office, the contracts through which I represent foster children are being put out for competitive bid, while a couple of tough cases are demanding extra attention.

Let’s break those down.

tazI’ve been representing foster children for about twenty consecutive years, which means I’ve gone through at least five of these re-competitions. I consider myself competent to write proposals, and yet, I got my knickers in quite a twist over having to answer some technical questions about my proposal.

With respect to the tough cases, well, I’ve handled many tough cases. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but as a lawyer, if you prepare as well as you can, then the outcome is not in your hands. And yet, I took those cases home with me, and lost sleep over them I could not afford to lose.

Eve smallAnd Lady Eve? She’s my eighth novel to hit the shelves, and my ninth title.There’s nothing at this point I can do to change the book, influence which titles are coming out the same day, or tweak the cover. And yet, there I was, compulsively checking my rankings, when I don’t even trust the accuracy of the sales reporting mechanism.

Nonetheless, I buzz-sawed through the week, steeple chasing right down the to-do list. Even remembered to send my daughter flowers on her 25th birthday…

Wait a minute.

Beloved Offspring’s arrival in my life has been the defining glory and the defining trauma of my existence. Being her mom taught me what I know about loving and being loved as an adult, though hers was not an easy birth: Three days and nights of uncoached, induced labor at the end of a high risk pregnancy, surrounded by tremendous uncertainty about my ability and fitness to look after a newborn, embedded in financial anxiety, and…

newbornOh, yeah. That stuff. Twenty-five years ago, she was born, and I was scared witless as I tried to grow up overnight. While I was exhausted. While I was broke. While I was utterly bewildered over relations with the fellows.

The emotional landmine I stepped on last week was not the contract recompetition, not the tough cases, and not the book launch, or not primarily those things. I lost my balance because of my daughter’s birthday. Some years it hits me harder than others, but I never seem to realize what has my tail in a knot until the day has passed, and life is beginning to right itself.

I’m amazed at how my subconscious keeps track of this stuff. Does your calendar have invisible landmines in it? The day a bad break-up started? The day somebody lost a job, or the anniversary of a surgery that took a long while to get over? Even when the outcomes are mostly good (my daughter was a perfectly healthy baby), what do you do to minimize the disruption the memories can cause, even decades later?

To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of the Grace Burrowes title of your choice.

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35 comments on “The Ides of Memory

  1. Most of the time I let those memories in when I have a moment to myself. Otherwise I push them to the back of my mind. There are some memories that on their “given” date don’t budge, so I let them roll and keep pushing on through my day. I don’t forget my memories good or bad, I simply give them their due.

  2. I try really hard to letting the past go because I know I should – all the selfhelp books say so!! And I do know it’s probably for the best, but forgetting is a hard thing to do and maybe when I think I’ve succeeded, that darn subconsious is working in the background. I think two dates that are hard for me since they’re still pretty new is my oldest daughter’s marrage (2008) and her subsequent divorce a few years later. It’s easier to deal with my own hurts more than my children’s.

  3. Oh yes, about a month’s worth of 7 minefield birthdays and holiday earthquakes starting the 6th of December and running through to the 11 of January which was my 40th wedding. Birthdays are not to be combined even if they have to be shared. There is one single birthday each year that always manages to sneak up on me and grab when least expected and that is my Dad’s. Has partly to do with me being the eldest sibling and being very similiar to my Dad and understanding more and more how fast time is going and we are slowly slowing down.

    • Laura, and some of us are slowing down not-so-slowly. I’m more aware of my parents’ birthdays now that they’re 89 and 92. Makes me think of how much time I might have, and that what I can do to protect the quality of that time. For my generation, those ages may not be so unusual, but for theirs? They’ve buried a lot of friends.

  4. Grace my “landmine” or maybe I should say “landmines” started August 14, 1978 when I was widowed, then about 7 weeks later my aunt lost her husband, and finally the Sunday after Thanksgiving my mother passed away. The thing that stands out most in my mind is hearing a priest, don’t know if he was Catholic or Episcopalian though I’m guessing the former as mother was in a Catholic hospital, tell me “Quit crying, you don’t have anything to cry about as you’re mother is better off now” in a very rude tone of voice. At the time I was leaning against the wall outside her hospital room feeling totally overwhelmed by everything that had happened in the past few months. I never believed in the saying that “bad things come in three’s” until that year. So glad I’ve only had one year like that in my life.

    • Molly, there are always going to be people who don’t get it. Until one walks in your shoes, they should keep unhelpful comments to themselves. I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that at probably one of the lowest points in your life.

    • Molly, you know that trip you want to take to see your grandkids? I’d surely plan it for late summer/autumn. Cannot imagine a worse hat trick of sorrow, or a more unfeeling comment from somebody who should have known better. Who REALLY should have known better.

      Sorry that happened to you, on top of all you were dealing with–and you so young, too. I’m guessing a young widow could not have a better friend than you now, though.

  5. It’s not usually one particular date but sometimes late at night I’ll be hit with an overwhelming rush of memories, not good but not horrible either. Just things that I would rather forget, moments I felt embarrassed or bad choices that I have made. These are always the hardest to shake off, that a bad day completely unrelated brings a swarm of memories just because of the anxiety I feel is similar to that memory. To counter this I try to focus on good memories instead like the first time I met my husband, our wedding day and other positive memories.

    • You’re right, Amanda, there are landmines on the clock as well as the calendar. My daughter was born at 12:11 am. Guess what I think and feel when I glance over between the chapter of some book and see that number blinking at me from the clock?

      Another, happier, trigger is the part of the morning as dawn approaches, particularly in spring and fall when that’s the coldest moment of the day. That’s often when my daughter and I would be heading out to a horse show, cold, tried, a bit anxious, but not unhappy.

      And I expect thirty years from now (assuming I’m above ground and suckin’ air), I’ll still have that association.

      • Amanda, I totally agree. Late at night or driving in the car by myself, I will beat myself up over poor choices or embarassing moments. Or I will remember a painful event. I try to get myself out of it by focusing on the great things that I have now or are coming in the future. There is nothing good that comes from dwelling on things in the past you can’t change or have caused you pain. I always tell myself that I have learned from it or grown stronger from whatever it was. Interesting question, Grace. Thanks!

  6. What an interesting blog and question. You always make me think. First I am with you in spirit and always know you live a life of good service and amazing writings.. I admire you so much.
    Tough question though. I have a weird one, my kids birthdays bring me such joy at their excitement but such angst at their aging. Where did my little ones go? Every one of their birthdays I listen to Nancy Griffiths version of Turn Turn Turn and Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game. Every one. And then I hug my children so hard and pray

    • When our kids are little, people tell us to enjoy them because “it goes by so fast,” except that amid endless packed lunches and piles of laundry, it doesn’t feel like it’s going by so fast. Then you hit a birthday, or realize they’re growing out of their clothes even faster, and wham, it’s going by TOO quickly.

      Thanks for those encouraging thoughts, Hope. The foster kids have made me more aware of the power of the calendar. Many of them will have a hard time around the anniversary of when they were taken from their parents, the anniversary of when somebody died, etc. It’s one of those patterns we tend to pick up in hindsight: Oh, yeah. Last year at this time he was picked up for shoplifting, the year before that iy was a psych hospitalization…

  7. I replay events in my mind at odd moments, but especially on special dates. I try not to let them bother me, and it’s hard to control my thoughts and emotions, but I just try to go about my day and do something other than get lost in memories. My son’s birthday is a tough one because as he ages, I age right along with him. I think I feel older on his birthday than I do my own. 😀

    • Interesting point, Barbara. I hadn’t considered that my daughter’s birthday–25 years old!–might be tripping my “I’m getting old!” anxieties. She’s very vocal about her “quarter life crisis,” searching diligently for a direction that has meaning and yet, will allow her to be self-sufficient. If she’s fretting about something, it’s bound to affect me. Even now.

      Generally though, my life just keeps getting better. My twenties and thirties (in hindsight) were terribly, awfully hard compared to my forties, and my fifties are turning out to be the best yet.

  8. @Molly I remember a year that was full of landmines for me. 1977 started with my Mother’s only sister dying in January, I left a job that had turned toxic the end of February, my Dad died in the beginning of April and 5 weeks later my Father-in-law died in May. It was a very difficult year. It was a year to pick myself up and start over – to grow. I keep Gina Barrecca in mind. She said, “To start growing means that you not only bloom but you blossom. You blossom. You find your own way in the world.” That year put me in the fire, but I believe that the fire tempered me.

    • Martha, that is a litany of loss. I’m sorry that befell you, and the collateral damage was probably that your mom was less available to help you through it, because SHE was leaning on YOU.

      You’re right though: Those rough patches, those swamps and ditches and ruts, you meet yourself there, and get yourself sorted out. Those hard, lonely lessons give you wisdom you get to keep for the rest of your life.

      Love the image of the blossom. Maybe that’s why I’ve brought in some forsythia–to remind me blossom.

  9. Early January is the trigger for me. The Christmas time is over, so everyone goes back to their own little worlds, no more get togethers, no more mailed greetings, no more happy feel-good shows on TV. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s lonely. On top of that I lost both my beloved Grandpas in January. In January the ache in my heart just grows until I am missing them so much. I have to be really careful not to fall into a depression then. Knowing what the triggers are helps a lot. Just being able to acknowledge the reason helps in not sinking into that black pit of depression.

    • Brandy, I’m glad January is behind you for this year. I think most people are sensitive to the cold and dark, having endured grief in the depths of winter could only make things worse.

      I usually stumble around in a swivet for a while before it occurs to me to ask: Have I hit and anniversary sink hole? I say June is tough because my daughter nearly came to grief in June, but it’s also the month of my wedding anniversary… ahem. My former anniversary.

  10. I am one of those odd people curses/blessed with a near photographic memory. I am not so bad that you can name a random date and I can tell you all about what I did on that day, but I do come close. I have lots of triggers that will make a memory appear out of nowhere. But for what you are talking about I certainly have dates that come around every year that bring back memories both good and bad. I know the day I got my first car, which is also the same day of my first real date. The day I found out I was pregnant and the day we discovered it was twins. The day they were diagnosed with autism. I actually know the day (night) we conceived our third son (he’s the only one I know the exact date.), the day I miscarried number 4 (at 14 weeks)and the day I had to have surgery because of it, #4’s due date which I spent in the hospital with boy #3 be he had a horrible case of pneumonia. This past year the dreaded surgery anniversary date stayed with me all that day. So many others as well, but most of the time memories just pop up at unexpected times. Something will remind me of something else and I can “hear” whole conversations I had with someone years ago and sometimes those will linger with me all day or longer. Sometimes the memories are sad and other times memories can be a wonderful thing.

    And now I feel like belting out “The Way We Were.”

    • What a mind! I could see you being very useful in diplomatic circles, recalling conversations, dates, social history… Your talents are unusual, but I can see, too, where having all those memories stick to you could become oppressive.

      I think most parents develop a child-centered chronograph. I can recall my mom trying to figure out when something happened, and zeroing in on, “It was between Maire and Tom, so that would have been…”

      • I get lots of strange looks from people for the things I remember. Like going to visit a friend I see only once a year and we switch whose house every other year. The second time I went to see her she was in a new house and I walked in and took a look around and asked her how she liked cooking with electric after having gas in her first house and that I see she got a new fridge with a lock on the water dispenser. I had only been in her old house once.
        I recently reconnected on FB with my uncle’s ex-wife. They got divorced when I was probably 5. She found me, looking for my parents. I impressed her by remembering in great detail the house she and my uncle lived in, that I had probably only been to twice.
        I get calls from old friends and my mom quite a lot wanting to pick at my memory. My husband does not appreciate it so very much.

  11. Things and people, that “happen” to us, make out life and form us, they accompany us on our way in life and put us before decisions and sometimes pure facts that we can’t do a thing about them. They make us stronger, wiser, they simply (among others) make US.
    Therefore, I think memories are a fine thing and we should keep and cherish them wether they meant something good or bad. I definitely am someone to do so, and I try to remember at least the most important anniversaries (with 3 kids and a job thinking of everything grows hard…). At home, we celebrate those with talking about it, little presents or funny reminders or whatsoever, we live them.
    Maybe I can just say so because I have never had a really big “blow”, a very hard thing to have happened to me. Of course, I lost people, had things to have happened to me that I wish had gone differently. But in the end: here I am, that’s me, I am happy, and because of all the things that did happen to me.

    • Conny, there’s some saying out there that if you’re sad much of the time, you’re living in the past. If you’re worried, you’re living in the future. Sounds like you’ve found the balance, the celebration to be found living in the present.

  12. One of my landmine days just passed, what would be my fiance’s birthday, a day we never had the chance to spend together, and never will due to one man’s road rage on a completely different day…a landmine with extra shrapnel days. This year it passed better than before, relatively, as a friend made plans with me so I’d be out of the house, less in my head, busy building new memories for the day. My heart & soul still grapple with context for that landmine. Maybe, just maybe, I’ve reached a plateau of acknowledging it with a side glance and respectful nod, instead of falling over a cliff. Not sure I’ll ever gain equanimity with the day he died though.

  13. Amanda expressed a situation similar to mine. I am not triggered by dates or times, but rather it seems by sensory associations. I hear a song, see an image, feel something emotionally and poof, up comes a “better forgotten” memory. The trick for me is to not let a spiral begin where I begin to dredge up every bad thing that ever happened to me, every mistake, every humiliation.

    Some of the self-talk strategies are helpful such as loudly (in my head) admonishing myself to “stop that now!” or snapping a band on my wrist, but only if I catch it early. If I don’t catch on in time I will tend to have a fit of self castigation (which is never helpful) and in a rare worst case scenario I can spiral down into sobbing misery. Always there are after shocks and a processing period before I can let it go.

    Ultimately I think the core of my problem is a misguided belief that bad things should not happen. I try now to remind myself when “s___” happens that it is as much a part of life as success and joy. I think it has helped me not add to the ‘tape’ that runs when I fall into a sorry state.

    • There are entire books written about “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” and that phrase is probably a short form definition of trauma.

      When my thoughts get to whirling, I picture myself riding up a center on a nice big show pony, both of us turned out in our Sunday go-to-meetin’ finest. We come to a perfect square halt, I salute, and we leave the arena at a walk on a loose rein, our troubles left in a heap behind us.

      I get so absorbed in the riding parts of that scenario, I forget about the troubles.

  14. Some memories are so disruptive that I’m not sure there is a proper and effective way to deal with them. They just “are”. I think you made a very good point, that it depends on what else is going on in current life, that determines how we cope with the past when it comes sneaking up on us. Most of the time, I can keep memories in perspective, but if chaos (good or bad) is all around me, then I am much more sensitive to them.

    • We get ambushed by circumstances. If my daughter’s birthday had fallen in the middle of a perfectly calm week, I might have handled it more easily, but noooooo. Chaos on three fronts and some sleep deprivation leaves me more vulnerable to my own baggage. Fortunately, time marches onward, and spring is coming…

  15. The month of November. It’s fading with time, but often I think I shouldn’t set foot in a automobile during the month of November or maybe just not even leave the house.
    November 15 my car was T-boned by a passenger train. November 13 a year later I lost control of my car on I-40 at 9:30 at night. A year later I received the paperwork that I was being sued over the wreck from the previous year (I love how ambulance chasers wait until the last second). Several years later (4, I think), I waited until the first week of December to turn yet another car around on a state highway. Lastly, I spent a week of November 2011 in unbelievable pain due to a bulging disc.
    These are all things I want to be sure that I don’t forget. I want to remember to take care of myself so that I can do my best to keep any of these from happening again.

  16. One parent passed away in January 1975, and one passed away in December 1997 after a long bout with Alzheimers. Yes, over two decades apart, and yet I paste those two months together in my head. They are the months when bad things happened. I am not miserable, but I withdraw a little. I am homesick for my first home and my first family.

    I want to say that I consider myself lucky. I’ve made a home for myself and my husband and our adorable child (15). His buds are in and out and the house is sometimes not very quiet at all. I decorate, bake, buy gifts, etc.

    I am fortunate that I am missing something that was wonderful.

    • Pam, you comment reminds me that my folks are 89 and 93, respectively, and they’ve lost so many friends and family members, the losses probably merge into one bleak calendar. Yesterday my dad sent out an email to his kids with one of his old friend’s names in the subject line.

      I thought, “Oh, no. Dad’s lost one of his oldest surviving friends…” This guy is 95, and Dad was writing to let us know he’d heard from him, and his friend is still quite alive and kicking, as is the friend’s wife.

      Made me think how important it is to celebrate that we’re alive. Just that we’re alive. Now.