Memories of Strangers

Crawl inside your mind and you will find bits of all the people you have ever been: the carefree child of four making mud pies after a rain, the hormonal teenager feeling nervous on a first date, the young employee making strides at a new job, the friend, the lover, the socialite, the loner. Each part of your life plays out in your memories like a movie. Some are long movies that we replay over and over. Some are comedic shorts or, perhaps, film-noir.  The supporting characters may change over the years, but you should always be the star. These memories make you who you are. The good memories direct us toward more positivity. The sad memories reveal our strength and gratitude. The painful memories serve as reminders to strive for better in the future.

My memories – my movies – are broken. Like an old 8mm reel the film became brittle and parts have been burned away, leaving disjointed plot points and random characters lost in a wayward story. Flashes of stories float through my mind but don’t fit, giving me no reference. Sometimes people have no story, other times a story has no face. My life is in pieces, like a pile of edits left on the cutting room floor, only to be swept away and forgotten. Life has become a puzzle to be solved – or accepted as incomplete.


Around age 25 I was in a car accident which left me with a shattered nose, severe concussion and various cuts and bruises. Over 175 stitches attempted to piece my nose back together (it’s not like it was a particularly fetching nose before the accident). A few weeks of rest allowed my body to heal.  Life went back to the way it was before the accident. Mostly.

My car was damaged beyond repair, and I took that opportunity to stop driving. For nearly a year I found alternate means of transportation to work, shopping – whatever I needed to do. I was in no hurry to drive again (I wasn’t fond of it before the accident). When I returned to work, I had no problem picking up where I left off. It would be several months before I started to notice any problems, and years before I understood the magnitude of what happened to me. In bits and pieces I watched my past disappear.

Because of that accident memories of my childhood are very spotty. I remember a fair amount up until age 7 or 8. I remember very little from age 13-25. Because of all the time that has passed, most days this is no problem. I’m living my life today. Yesterday doesn’t matter much. But now my high school reunion is coming up. I have not attended any reunion before this. I’m not sure I will attend this one. But it’s coming and I am very aware of it.

High school was a long time ago. A lot has happened – to all of us – since that time. Some still live in our small town. Some have traveled the world (more than once). There is so much we could learn from each other at this gathering. Reconnections – new connections – memories.

That’s the part that stops me. Memories. The memories which are most vivid for me are unpleasant. That’s not so worrisome – high school isn’t kind to many people. But, my memories are small – both in character, and in number. The thought of being in a room full of classmates who are now, to me, strangers is very frightening. This goes beyond not keeping in touch with each other. This is giving me a sense of loss that I’m not sure how to navigate.

I look at the class lists, I browse through yearbooks and most of what I see has no meaning to me. Not just pictures of forgotten classmates but also pictures of me in settings or situations of which I have no recollection. Buildings and classrooms are unfamiliar. Teacher’ names and faces have no attachment. It’s unsettling. I read the jovial conversations among friends on social media recounting the antics of our youth and I have nothing to contribute. I once had a conversation with a woman who was my best friend at that time. She laughed and smiled as she recalled the fun we had together. I smiled and laughed with her, but I didn’t remember. I cried that night, reliving that awkward moment. She was my best friend, the one I leaned on, relied on, trusted with my life and this moment was important to who we were as a pair, significant enough for her to talk about with me more than 30 years later. I had no memory of it. I remember her. I remember that we were inseparable for a while. I don’t know why we were friends. I don’t know what we enjoyed about each other, what we talked about, what activities we liked. I loved her. I know this, but I can’t feel it anymore. A piece of me is missing.

If I go to this reunion I won’t know most of my classmates. At all. I’ve looked at the pictures and read the names and tried to recall. But it’s gone. Sometimes a word or story will bring back little pieces of a memory, but never complete thoughts. How awful to not know the people who shared your formative years with you. There will be stories I don’t understand. There will be memories I can’t recall. The thought of being in a room full of strangers with whom I have a shared history is frightening to me. These people who I don’t know will tell me about myself. They know my life better than me at this point. That is overwhelmingly anxiety-invoking.

Even the people I do remember are in my head as flashes only. Like watching through a strobe light. I see a smile one minute, then a frown, with no knowledge of why it changed. I have connected through social media with a few high school friends. I have pushed hard to try to remember things for them. It’s not much. Often it is a feeling that starts a memory. I remember feeling scared, or safe, or comfortable. I don’t remember why. I don’t remember conversations. Just random feelings.

Big pieces of my life are missing. At times I don’t understand why I feel or act the way I do now. Suddenly a fraction of a memory will flash through my mind and things will make more sense. It’s unsettling to navigate life feeling like a stranger in my own movie. Life has become a puzzle box that I open occasionally, knowing that there are pieces missing.

I still don’t know if I will attend my high school reunion. I’m trying not to let my fear win. I want to be stronger than the missing pieces. I want to stand next to these strangers and make them friends again. It feels like a very tall mountain right now. Perhaps I will sleep on it and more of the movie will be revealed to me in time. The trailers seem interesting. I only hope the full-length film lives up to the hype.

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