past girlfriends by joe bustillos

The Curse of Having Digitally Enhanced Memories

For whatever reason I seem to have been “gifted” with the ability to remember, in pretty vivid detail, all of those pivotal moments in my life. The time of day, the way the sun shone in the sky, the rush of the crowd going by, the split second when she looked at me and said, “oh, it’s you.” It’s quite a collection stored between my two ears. One doesn’t want to live in these past memories, but so much of today’s world was built on this stream of events, that having an active relationship with one’s memories can add value to the moments one is experiencing at the present moment.

There are memories, such as my childhood with my older sisters, that I seem to remember, but admittedly are mostly remembered because of photographs that I’ve seen that were taken during that time. Even something as emotionally imprinting as my wedding, I seem to remember more based on the surviving pictures and recollections of friends. So there’s definitely a part of this that is triggered and stored externally in these photographs.

Another, more powerful, means of maintaining and adding to my storage of memories are the thousands of pages of journals that I have written. I have been writing some form of journal since high school. Thus, what others may remember through a fading collection of terse cards, snapshots and other memorabilia, I possess in written form in my own words in painful, explicit, sometimes silly detail. Now the reason this even came to mind recently was that one benefit of putting Windows XP on my MacBookPro was that I would then be able to pull up all of the journals I’d written from my pre-mac days (1985-2002). Naturally I spent a couple evenings reliving the events recorded when I was supposed to be A) finishing Pepperdine work, B) writing units for my computer classes, or C) grading work for my 6th – 8th graders. Gotta love how technology boosts productivity.

The first thing that struck me was how the problems from all the different eras all seem to be so similar. The drama and struggle of falling in love with someone only to have it cut short seemed to be an ongoing theme. Now, is that a case of consistency or an inability to learn from previous negative experiences? I don’t know. I wonder what would the 1980’s JBB think about all of this? Well in my trip down digital memory lane I found the following passage written to a friend about my first post-divorce relationship (circa 1988):

“Like most things in my life of late, my relationship with [girlfriend A] has been a bit quirky. At the end of June I thought we were through, mutually agreed that we were thoroughly miss- matched, etc., etc. But then with my birthday party (sorry you couldn’t be there) she opened up a bit up to me and stood by me like a true friend. And since then we’ve stumbled our way along, gradually confiding in each other and trusting each other with some our deepest and darkest personal secrets. And amidst all the bumps and misunderstandings we’ve actually found ourselves in something of a relationship. Imagine my surprise.” (August 1, 1988)

Where have I heard these words before? Hmmm. Then there’s this much longer passage entitled “I Wanted to Tell Her” about an evening together with said girlfriend. This picks up after we’d concluded that my upset stomach (from taking antibiotics) was getting in the way of us having sex:

“So we laid there and held each other and eventually she got dressed while I made another trip to the bathroom. When I got back into the room I said, “Hey, how come I’m the only naked person in the room?!” And she giggled. We kissed and necked and I found something to wear and walked her to her truck (even though she said that I was restricted to my room until the morning, ha! it was after midnight, so I told her that it was already morning).

“Before we left my apartment, when I was standing hugging her, my naked body against her clothed body I looked into her eyes and knew I wanted to tell her. It was right there for me to say. But I hesitated.

“And when we were standing by her truck I saw it in her eyes again. It was right there. I intimated what I wanted to say, but used the excuse that I’d already unloaded enough skeletons and didn’t want to freak her out. Now, if she didn’t know what I was thinking that comment would have made no sense whatsoever. But she just looked at me, deep intensity pouring from her eyes.

“I wanted to disentangle myself from the web, from the inevitability of saying it. But I could do so, only so carefully. And it was doubtful whether it was worth delaying this disclosure. I wanted to tell, and perhaps I should have. But I didn’t.

“For all of the insanity and the illogical basis for our relationship, in spite of the confessed lack of compatibility, when I stood there looking into her eyes, feeling her hands run through my hair and her lips pressing against mine, I wanted to tell her that I love her.

“But I didn’t.”(July 19, 1988)

It does make one wonder, that after almost twenty years I find myself battling with the same issues of intimacy, communication and seeing things through. Maybe the value at most people not having “digitally enhanced memories” in the form of endless journals is that they never realize that they’ve been through this before and thus are not held responsible for repeating the same mistakes or moving any further forward in their emotional maturation. At the same time, the fact that I have made a point to continually force my emotional (and often frivolous**) experiences down into writing may also indicate the choice I’ve made to go through all of this with my emotional eyes open and to be accountable for this life that I’ve been given. And maybe it keeps the wounds from the past from completely healing because I can re-experience the poignancy of love cut short and the pain following the demise of these relationships. Funny thing was that when I began to write in ernest in the early 1980s my catalyst was a quote that I heard from the singer/songwriter Sting, that one cannot expect to write (song/novel/lifework) unless one continually writes. Granted going through a divorce then then the subsequent journey into a completely unknown territory of being single again provided more than enough to chew on.

So maybe the point isn’t to find any one solution as much as to share the experience along the way. It would be nice if I could learn just a little from all of these experiences and maybe even change some of my behavior patterns and maybe even make a few better choices… nah, what would be the fun in that? Seriously, I do see this as a sacred trust and endeavor to make “improvements” but I also have to acknowledge that despite the painful similarities, all of these situations are different and require that I not go into some kind of “automatic” mode when faced with problem X because this and that is what happened last time. My best bet is just to keep my eyes wide opened and pay attention to all that is going on around me and with me. Here’s to the next 18-years of “ah shit here we go again.” JBB

[SIDE NOTE: A fair number of journal entries seem to be about whatever technology lusting and difficulty I’m dealing with… funny that that never changes either… JBB]