But seriously. Memory. I’ve confronted it in a variety of ways recently. Once for my ten-year high school reunion; a second time when I came home from a long, crazy weekend and confronted my first week of grad school homework.
In readings for my class about 19th-century Paris, I found the theme of memory everywhere. One essay, Esther da Costa Meyer’s “The Place of Place in Memory,” talks about the way the senses bring memories vividly to life in the cinema of the mind.
“Volatile and invisible, odor too has a strong connection to human emotions and can color the places we bring back to mind.” Precisely how I felt walking through a tour of my high school. It’s been renovated recently, but it still smelled the same. The hallways were like early mornings or rushed passing periods, when we frantically slipped notes to each other and pushed our way through the swirling current of books and backpacks. In the old gym, I felt like I was supposed to start stretching, running laps, or running lines. The new gym and the back hallway leading to it smelled like Friday-night basketball games — we were ready to strike up the pep band. In the auditorium, the cool rush of paint and saw dust swept over the stage and onto the floor so often set up for the annual musical’s pit orchestra. I could hear the brass section tuning up, the riffs and rumblings on timpani and keys, my own chromatic scales climbing and falling.
And the thing is? So could everyone else. Though my own specific memories were vivid as we walked around those once-hallowed halls, so were theirs. And it kept happening all weekend. We talked about things that happened in first grade, in fifth, in seventh, and twelfth. It took our reunion beyond the vodka-fueled craze of the party bus. The collective conscious of these people, separated now by miles, jobs, and years, helped reconstruct those places that brought us all together in the first place. For me, it was something emotional, comforting, encouraging, nourishing, even. I so often find myself feeling like I’m isolated in my need to hold on to those school memories. And I might still be. But that collective memory — tons of us sharing in those past joys of stolen pink hall passes and weird classes — did more for me than I ever expected it would.
There’s this great line in The Big Chill when they’re all talking about how they had so much promise in college, but have somehow lost sight of everything they used to want. “It’s a cold world out there,” says Meg, “and sometimes I feel like I’m getting a little frosty myself.” These days, I feel like I exist in a bubble of cynical, jaded bitchiness. Looking back at high school pictures, I’m struck at how genuinely happy we all look. Being around my former classmates this weekend, sharing those memories of the time that essentially built us all, made me feel at home again.
Those memories constructed places we’d shared and the one place most dear to be. Home.