I’ve always considered myself to be a sentimental person. I must have been 6 or 7 years old when I started scrapbooking, and my construction paper, painted purple with an Elmer’s glue stick, became a canvas for the materialization of my memories. I became obsessed with assigning a tangible object to every memory because I thought it would help me stop my happiest moments from fading into vague recollections. I have held on to every birthday card I’ve received and the envelopes they came in. I like to look at the way my name was written on each envelope. It’s spelled incorrectly on some, and the “y”s in my name are replaced with “i”s that are dotted with little hearts. My name is lettered beautifully on others, and sometimes my friends would write one of the nicknames they had for me in between small parentheses.
Every time I browse through my piles of envelopes, and gift cards I already spent, I can see myself sitting in my living room at my 8th birthday party. My friends are all surrounding me, and my sister is standing over us, looking through a green disposable camera. I’m unwrapping a gift that appears to be some sort of book. It turns out to be a baby blue photo album, embroidered with orange songbirds and white vines. I can see where everyone is sitting around me, and as I feel the cold February breeze rushing through from the crack under the door, it’s like I’m turning 8 again. It’s 2012 and I’m surrounded by my friends and family, seeing the world through my turquoise wireframe glasses. I never want the moment to end.
I find myself flipping through that baby blue album very often. It holds all the photos my sister printed from the stack of disposable cameras she ran through that day. Beside each photo slot, I wrote “My birthday party (8 years old)!!!” With each page, my handwriting gets a little sloppier, and the 8s start looking more like ampersands. I love that I can see what my handwriting was like then, and picture myself sitting beside my sister as she filled the photo slots and I captioned each one with a wooden pencil.
For the longest time, the memories I collected sparked joy in me. I was amused by the things my younger self thought were important to hold on to, and impressed by my ability to capture my emotions in writing from such a young age.
But as I grew older, these memories became deeply influenced by my relationships with other people, which couldn’t be reduced to a simple keepsake. I was no longer capturing the simple joys of a birthday party. My once intelligible emotions of happiness and sadness became entangled with the bitterness of grief and transience of joy. Feelings of love and hatred were layered with my newfound understanding of envy and desire. I was trying to eternalize my relationships with people, as though a person can be strapped down to a place and time and compressed in between sheets of paper.
I would lay all of the things I collected of a person beside each other — everything they had given me, or anything I had saved that reminded me of the time I spent with them. I expected my mind to go rushing back to a time when we were together, rewinding past all the time we spent apart. I expected to feel how I felt when I was around them, in the same way I was able to revisit the thrill of my 8th birthday through a stack of envelopes. I wanted to feel magically entrenched by the bliss of experiencing love for the first time. But instead, I was met with this wistful desire, making it abundantly clear to me that remembering isn’t enough. My memories lacked the rawness of human connection. There was nothing I could do to capture the blissful naivety of falling in love for the first time, and there was no way for me to materialize an enchanting memory of a person that no longer exists in such a way.
Across pages of unfinished smash journals, diaries and albums, I have mistakenly extended my understanding of the temporality of experiences to that of people. I tried to assign people to places and those places to points in time. I would recall a feeling and try to chase it until I lost sight of what it was I was longing for. I kept trying to reinvent a person I once knew through a collection of memories: a receipt from an ice cream trip, a handwritten letter, a printed polaroid photo signed with our initials. But none of these things amount to a person. There is no number of memories I could collect or moments I could rebuild to capture a human connection. I can’t staticize a person, or rebuild a relationship based merely on what I remember of the past.
The happiness I feel when I look through my baby blue photo album doesn’t exist when I revisit my more recent memories. As I flip through journal pages and sort through memory boxes I’ve assembled over the last few years, I find the visual recollections of my memories clouded with a sense of longing, as my once blissful attempt to be sentimental is now tainted by inability to move on.
My inability to grasp the largely intangible concept of human connection has cost me to lose sight of what my original intent was in saving all of these keepsakes. At 8 years old I wasn’t trying to create an avenue for myself to continue revisiting the past. I captured memories through words, photographs and small mementos because of how much I valued the present moment. I tried making each moment last forever because I found contentment in being present, unaffected by what has passed and what is yet to come. Over the years, I lost sight of what it means to be present. I became so heavily entrenched in a nostalgic, imagined yesterday that I found myself constantly grappling with the passage of time, and I lost sight of the here and now.
In an effort to escape this elusive past that I have trapped myself in, I am learning to succumb to the fleetingness of moments. I am grounding myself in present connections, memories and expectations. I’m learning to find closure in the passage of time and no longer trying to revive things that are gone.