March 25, 2010

You Are the People You’ve Known

Know what? You’re never free of the people in your past. I think some people think it’s possible. Some people move every two to three years to get a fresh start. It’s as if they need to reinvent themselves ~ shed their old skin and become a new creature. But I don’t think you can shed your past like that.

I’ve been thinking lately about an old friend who really isn’t a friend any more. We knew each other in middle and high school. We rode the bus together an hour each way. She came from a very religious family but her family loved fishing and the West. We went through a Louis L’Amour kick together. But then in high school we drifted apart. We went to the same university but we were in different circles and didn’t see much of each other. I’ve seen her a couple of times since. Her family is all in town here, but she’s moved to Montana. But the last time I saw her I got the impression she’d moved on, so I guess it’s the end of that friendship.

But I’ve been thinking about her lately. I was wondering what in my current situation reminds me of that feeling of losing her, even if she was really already a long lost one. The lack of closure, of closeness, especially in relationships, bugs the heck out of me.

I recently read A.M. Homes’s The Mistress’s Daughter, a memoir about A.M. being adopted and reconnecting with her biological parents, and throughout the book she tries to parse what she inherited from her biological parents and what from her adopted parents.

This brings me to my point: I think the past you have with people embeds itself in you. It can be as little as a chance encounter in a convenience store, but if something about that person makes an impression on you, you’ve taken part of that person into you. And your parents and siblings are intimately such a part of you you can never extricate yourself, even if you wanted to.

And beyond that, ancestors leave a legacy that we are largely unaware of. Who they were, what they did, and where they were from comes down to us through genetics and family habits and ways of mind. The metaphor of the ghost is particularly apt here.

We are made up of the sediment of the past. Some theorists would say that we don’t even have agency ~ that we do not choose anything ~ but that our cumulative past makes our future predetermined. I don’t know that I’d go that far, but I do think that the people from our past have a much larger effect on us than we realize.

What I’m Reading Today: I’ve started Lisa Genova’s Still Alice for book club. So far I’m really liking it. A professional couple, with the regular tensions, going through their days.

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