Past Lives

Maybe it’s Melvin still bouncing around in my head, or maybe it’s my bus rides around San Francisco, driving past old jobs, old (regular) haunts, seeing people I think I know.

The rain, the fog, the city.

Maybe it’s the quiet moments alone I have now. Maybe it’s the difference between working alone for so long and then being thrust into a world with so many people – even the people pretending to still be alone.

I’m not sure what it is. But it has me thinking about my past lives. Not the ones I had before I was born, the ones I’ve had since then. All the ones that live inside me, that I remember as if I could maybe be that person again, because I once was.

Like the time I was working so hard. So much harder than I am now – though I hate to admit it. Working 40 hour weeks and going to grad school full time (How did I ever do that? How were there enough hours? How did I sleep or eat or play? But I did… somehow I did.) and after work I would walk across the street to the Safeway because if I could get my grocery shopping done before I went home it meant I could spend the rest of the evening studying without having to leave my room. I had my purse, with the books and the papers and the snacks and the pens shoved into it so that it weighed down on my shoulder like an anvil, and my bags of groceries, also stuffed full in an attempt to make it all fit into two bags. And there I was, struggling the 4 long city blocks to my car, in the rain, (it’s always in the rain, or the wind, or the cold, or the heat so you sweat through your clothes) struggling to keep my purse from slipping off my shoulder, my finger tips aching from the weight of the groceries, and praying I’d get to my car before the bag ripped. I did this countless times, and it was always the same. The same street I walked down, the same struggle with the bags, the same threat of ripping and spilling all over the sidewalk, and the same thought.

“Sometimes life is so much harder than it needs to be. Sometimes life is so hard.”

Years before that, I’m in college in Illinois and I’m standing on top of the Krannert Center and I am desperate, so so desperate, for him to love me back. He is telling me he loves me, but he is also refusing to kiss me. He is playing a game, one we are both taking seriously. One that is ripping me into tiny pieces so that I blow away with every puff of his cigarette. It takes me a long time to find all of me after that. That girl, thinking she knew what love meant, knew what was good for her… that girl is sometimes me, sometimes I get a flash and I am her. But mostly I am not. Mostly it’s like watching a movie of myself. A memory I’ve replayed so many times it’s almost like a story I once wrote and I’m remembering the tragic plot. It feels familiar, but so far away.

Or my first job after moving to San Francisco. How powerless I felt. How much I needed the money, and how horrible they treated me. How embarrassed I always was, how self conscious I felt being a girl and having to ask permission to go to the bathroom, to have to walk across a big warehouse every time I needed to use it. Having my 10am routine pee commented on daily. Having my work scrutinized so much that I made stupid mistakes. Feeling like I had no way out until one day I was pushed too far and I quit. And the overwhelming relief I felt, and the power to never let myself be in that situation ever again. I still remember the way the desk felt, the way the room smelled, the way you needed all the lamps on because there was never any natural light in the office, the way the numbers on the phone felt when I dialed. It’s all there, but it’s not here.

We go through so much, we do so much. And it all piles up behind us. Big chunks of space and time. Sometimes I think, “This moment, this moment will be one of those moments I remember forever. This, right here.” But then the next day it doesn’t even occur to me to remember. I have been so many people, and yet I am always me. I have gone through so many times that, in the moment, felt epic. Now they feel like the travel time before a really great destination. Just the travel time.

Even my wedding, even engagement. That girl who got married 6 months ago was so saturated with feeling. She felt everything, absorbed all of it. Will never forgive some things, will never forget others. She simultaneously wanted to get through it and wanted it to last forever. But it was just a day and it was just a moment in time, a past life.

How many more will I have? Will there be ones that last ten years? Will they last 2 weeks? Will I remember them all? I want to write them all down like chapter books and line them up in chronological order on my book shelf.

Book 1, Chapter 1: Lauren realizes that if she doesn’t lighten up she won’t make any friends. She makes real efforts to be open minded and accept people for who they are. Sometimes this means she decides not to like people, no offense to them.

Book 2, Chapter 7: Riding in a speed boat around a lake in July, at sunset, listening and singing to John Mayer. It’s 2002, Lauren is with her best friend and her first real boyfriend. It’s the perfect temperature even with the wind from the boat, and she thinks that this is possibly the happiest moment of her life.

Book 3, Chapter 2: Pink pajama pants, a light blue camp t-shirt, a wooden desk chair that smells like all wooden desk chairs do. Lauren faces the wall while she studies, her roommate is behind her a foot, facing the opposite wall. They both have headphones in and are IMing each other. This is absurd, but also incredibly convenient.

And so on…

26 thoughts on “Past Lives”

  1. Your writing. So good.
    And that is why I love documenting, keeping scraps, letters, photos, in a box. And another box. And diaries. In hopes that I will not forget… because the moment, it always feels so hard.

  2. I had a teacher in high school refer to all the things we carry with us as our “invisible backpacks,” and I’ve never forgotten that. It reminds me that we’ve all had our crappy circumstances that have shaped better futures.

  3. First off, if I haven’t said it before, you are a fantastic writer.

    Secondly, I can soooooo relate to your idea of past lives, past selves. Sometimes it makes no sense how I got from who I was and where I was to who and where I am now, and sometimes it makes perfect sense. Sometimes I wish I could step back into my old self, old moments.

    Remembering that things look both better and worse in hindsight.

    What’s inspired this great leap of nostalgia?

    1. I think it’s a little bit the conversation I had with Melvin, the idea that we go through so many phases in life. So so many. We think of life has this one great chunk of existence but that isn’t true at all.

      Ans also – I think you need to pile up some past lives before you realize they are there. I’ve been working on mine for a while now. And they definitely aren’t all bad, there are many many awesome sections of my life, but it’s amazing where I’ve been compared with where I am. (As is always the case)

  4. I have to say…most of my past lives? Glad they’re in the past. So glad, I tend not to look back at them. Which isn’t necessarily good, but our past lives make us what we are.

  5. This is SO SO SO ON POINT with my life right now. You captured it all so well. All of my lives and past eras and moments are seemingly flooding back into my mind like its their JOB lately, its kinda overwhelming but also awesome. Cause you know my memory is always a bit shaky, so I’m loving the accuracy and FUN of those memories right now πŸ™‚ ……..where i would wake up in a large farmhouse with a huge bright teal/turqoise room sleeping on two mattresses on top of eachother and a bob marley poster and thinking “im going to skip class today” but going anyways (in a sweatshirt and guacho pants thinking that was actually getting dressed), and laughing that telling myself that everyone once in awhile made me such a badass, even though I wasnt…..or when i was 23 turning 24 and on the other side of the world and picking huge avacados the size of my head off the tree and cutting them to put on toast, and feeling the happies wash over me over. and over. and over. and thinking “i could stay here forever”. and then looking back and being so glad I didnt…….and when you and I were living in the tiniest one bedroom apartment and would lay in bed talking to eachother through sliding doors and trying to figure out if we had the energy at 230pm to walk one block to get licorice from walgreens.

    ps: that day in 2002, with the speedboat and the lake and the wind – one of the best days ever with you!

  6. I was thinking about something similar the other day, and about how we think about our past lives and realize in retrospect sometimes how hard they really were. I think about times I had and I wonder how I ever had the power to get up out of bed in the morning and keep moving, but I did. And it never occurred to me then, that things weren’t supposed to be that way (or that I had the power to change them). That they could be so, so much better.

    Just whole chapters of totally different lives, and sometimes I get nostalgic for them, even when they were horrible… And I wonder how this chapter will look in retrospect, the one I’m writing now. When/how does it end? #foodforthought

  7. I love the way you put this concept. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I feel like I just entered a new chapter. I’m in one of those saturated times where in a few years songs and smells are going to take me back to right now. I haven’t been in one of those times in a while….

  8. Dear Lauren… you don’t know me, I am an old friend of Kamel & Dora… Kamel’s parents; and mother of Fernanda Ruiz, Ricardo’s daughter…
    Fernanda introduced me to your blog a while ago, which I read often.. I had never dared write to you before but … after this blog I HAVE to congratulate you on your writing…. wow !!! you blew me away with PAST LIVES …. it is amazing !!!
    I love the way you write, you make me laugh, cry… and remember when I was your age….. keep on doing it and I really hope you will write a book one day ….. you are SOOOO GOOD you better beleive it !!! all my love to Kamel.. ( I don’t know if he will remember me) .. and a big kiss for you my dear …. best of luck !!!! Monica

  9. I totally get nostalgic for past me’s. I love this post, especially the bit about the chapter books! If I wish there were a way to actually chronicle life that way. I have a terrible memory and I’m always afraid of what I’m going to forget.

    Also, this: “It’s the perfect temperature even with the wind from the boat, and she thinks that this is possibly the happiest moment of her life.”

    Really reminded me of Jennifer Egan’s writing (disclaimer:I’ve only read the Goon Squad). Lovely.

  10. I find it really satisfying and fascinating to think about my past lives and how they’ve shaped who I am today. I usually think of past lives when I have a milestone or hear a certain song or visit a certain place that reminds me of those past lives.

  11. Lauren, this is so amazingly well-written! I love the idea of thinking about our lives in little chapters, and looking back at not just the hard stuff, but the good stuff from the past (that, as awesomesauce as life is now, does make me a little wistful for those days).

Leave a Reply