Friday, March 13, 2009

Story and Memory, Chapter 762

I've been thinking about 1985 a lot recently. I was 18 years old. I came out of the closet that year. I remember one conversation in particular. I walked around Morningside Heights with a friend from school. We walked all day -- just perusing the city and talking about what coming out was.

I was full of joy. I was free. I couldn't believe I'd come out and the world hadn't collapsed around me. I couldn't believe my friend was still my friend. This was 24 years ago, when coming out was a different thing, of course. But that's not the point of this story.

"This isn't about love or freedom or getting laid," she told. "This is about everything." She explained how if you make your own sexuality your own enemy, you basically spend your life fighting yourself. Make peace, and it's gonna change the whole way you see the world. Be honest with yourself and you can be honest with friends, sure. But beyond that, you can see friends better. You can feel things better. And she was right. In the following months, noodles tasted better, friends were somehow really real. Rain felt different on my skin. I cried during movies -- all movies. I walked differently. I looked people in the eye. I bloomed. I found spontaneity. The scales fell away from my eyes, and the world was no longer twilit. There was sunshine and darkness, and I could barely contain myself for joy. My friend woke this up in me with a few sentences. She woke me up to my own life.

I remember the day very clearly: perfect, crisp, sunny late fall in December New York. I remember we stopped and had diner food, and later we had noodles. I remember sitting on the steps near her dorm before she went in to get ready for a date.

There's only one problem: I remember her as Patricia Clarkson. Now, I know for a fact it wasn't Patricia Clarkson. There's no possible way it was. It seems much more likely that it was Angelica, who was one of my best friends that year. She was smart like that. But I remember Patricia Clarkson.

Why does the brain do that? How does the brain do that? How did it choose Patricia Clarkson, and have her play the role of Angelica? I know I had a professor who looked a lot like Patricia Clarkson. I remember her loudly complaining about gay men telling her how to run her life in the department reading room around that time. I don't know -- maybe it's as random as that.

I suspect that there's something more. I suspect I had to condense it down in my head. We probably grabbed coffee and went to the park, then meandered for a while. We no doubt talked about all kinds of things. Angelica was 18 at the time. She probably didn't dispense words of wisdom with the pith and clarity of a Patricia Clarkson character. While I'm sure she said many helpful things, I probably just observed her, figured something out, and shifted radically in a single afternoon.

In other words, something magical happened that day. She did still give me my own private Fall of Communism moment. But there's no one moment. There's no neat three-act structure. We probably talked about her boyfriend. We probably talked about the Meat Puppets and Sonic Youth and the Bad Brains. These are the things we had in common. It sounds about right, and I can just barely see her with a cup of coffee in her hand on a still chilly morning walking out onto Broadway.

I'd been disturbed by how this pretty central memory had been so easily corrupted. But I'm not so much anymore. I think this is what stories are for. This is why story structure is important. It's how we remember. It's how we make sense of things. We're hardwired for it.

It's probably something you have to own rather than fight against. Not an easy task. I wonder if Angelica's on Facebook.

No comments: