If I met her today, I would raise my eyebrows. They’d be the same eyebrows: thick, rogue and ready to go off on their own. That would be the end of what we have in common.
I’m 80,000 words into my memoir, and I have about 10,000 words to go. I waded through more than 100 journals to get my story. Through listening to the echoes my earlier self left on the page, I got to know who I used to be.
I didn’t like her.
My beloved half-Chihuahua Cookie struggles with social anxiety that she expresses through growling.
In a kind voice, her vet once explained to us that he was going to write “fear biter” on her chart so she would be treated with extra-gentleness. It didn’t mean she was a bad dog. It meant she needed special handling so no one got hurt, including Cookie.
We had a pet blessing at my church last weekend. I brought Cookie.
People make her nervous. Other dogs make her nervous. Loud voices make her nervous. Vultures make her very nervous. All these things were part of the event.
Between the nervous shaking and the growling, Cookie almost trembled her way out of her skin. She was blessed anyway.
Even the nervous, growly ones need blessing. Maybe they need it most of all.
I had a hard time making sense of the early journals, in part because I went through a period of not dating them so one day ran into the next, but mostly because I wasn’t making sense. I recorded things people said to me next to my own ideas. Like untangling a knot in a fragile gold chain necklace, I pulled apart the snippet of a conversation in a café from a song lyric.
An exchange overheard on a bus went next to my plans for the future and a list of foods I got from the health food store called the Food Bin but affectionately called the Food Binge.
Pages rolled on without explanation or context. For hours, I worked to draw a single clear thought out of anguish mounded in dark scrawls, a glass bead in a neglected corner crowded with dust bunnies. The memoir grew.
I acknowledge the person I was 25 years ago. It’s true I ran around and bounced off the walls of the city. Nightclubs seemed too small, and each time I saw the ocean, I was tempted to dissolve in it.
I didn’t believe in goodness.
I was prickly and unpleasant while wanting to be praised, needy but unable to accept affection. I cussed and walked in the street, rejecting the sidewalk’s offer to keep me safe. I slept in my clothes due to apathy, drunkenness or lack of ability to choose a different outfit.
I saw no point in hoping.
I refused joy or couldn’t find it. I don’t know if I was looking.
As I extract a story from raw materials, I see my past in a new light. I realize I need to break up with the person I used to be.
Like a dysfunctional friendship you only hang onto for historical reasons, I’ve been carrying around my old self. I’m ready to let go.
I acknowledge my differences with who I was and end it with grace.
We need to say this to the past: “It’s over.”
And we need to pray: “God, bless who I was, who I am and who you want me to be.”
Because even the nervous, growly ones need blessing. Maybe they need it most of all.