the things we forget on purpose

a photo of the word 'memories', framed in white, lying with a spray of red berries and a white cloth on a dark knit blanket

cw: old grief, metaphors of violence and harm to self

I have been sorting through boxes of things that we stacked in the garage when we moved here several years ago. Four years ago? Five? … I checked, it’s been almost five years.

We collectively wanted to go through every box and decide where our combined stuff should go once we arrived and settled in, but we didn’t finish this because a) chronic illnesses, b) moving, and c) the emotional land mines contained in most of the boxes.

When we moved here, my parent-child relationship with my second eldest was still in a highly catastrophic state. During a particularly painful conversation about his future, he had said he didn’t want to be part of the family any more, and I agreed but had to continue holding onto my responsibility as much as I was able until he turned eighteen and could legally do whatever he wanted. The months between moving and his eighteenth birthday were exhausting and haunting and I don’t actually remember very much of it.

NOTE: I am using he/him pronouns when I talk about him because those are the ones he was using before he left, and I refer to him by the name he chose at that time as well. My kids have all been gender-nonconforming in different ways, and even if I don’t have a relationship with someone any more, I am not going to misgender or deadname them.

Losing him has been a pain that never goes away. I have cried to my therapist and to my partners. I have wept from the bottom of my heart where I keep the things I don’t want to forget. I have been sick with grief. And I have both wanted to hold onto it so I can’t forget, and also didn’t want to carry all of that with me and experience it again every day anew. A person can’t hold that much pain and expect to function well enough to continue existing, at least not in my experience.

I have done my best to grieve and let go as I’m able to. Every June, his birthday month, I go through several weeks of mourning again, whether or not I want to be doing it. My body keeps the score and I have to let the grief in me move through until it has passed and I can remember the light again.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Litany Against Fear, from Frank Herbert’s Dune

He took most of his things with him when he left; we wanted to make sure that he had everything he needed to have and whatever he still wanted to keep. No matter how horrible that time was, I never wanted to make his life more difficult, and I did my best to be the best parent and person I could be through all of it; I am not sure that I succeeded. I did my fucking best.

There are always bits and pieces of old things left behind when someone who’s been with you for the better part of eighteen years decides to move away, and there are things in my boxes of stuff that have the potential to knock me over. One of the things I found, that I had forgotten I kept, was the lockbox we used to put his meds in so that even if he was gone all day, and didn’t get home while I was awake, he could still safely take his prescription medications. The moment I saw it I realized I had just stepped on one of those land mines, and the only thing I could do was step off the mine and let it blow me up. My hands started shaking and I felt like I was falling. I moved the box to a different pile, for some reason. I think my intention was to make it easier to look at it again later, but I honestly don’t know why that made sense at the time.

Concurrently with this, I had opened many boxes of books and household items and did not recognize almost a quarter of what I’d packed up. There are books that I know must have come off my bookshelves that I am not sure I have ever seen before. There are kitchen things and personal things that I know are kitchen and personal things because that’s how they were packed and labeled, but I don’t know where they came from. It’s like I was living my life without looking at it because it would have killed me to see what it had become.

this isn’t the first time I’ve lost memories and time.

I have barely any memories of my childhood. There are years’ worth of blank spaces that seem in my mind’s eye like a black nothingness. I know I was alive and experiencing things, but they are gone.

The unexpected thing, for me, has been realizing that my ability to intentionally forget the things that hurt me, doesn’t come with an awareness that I have forgotten something. My mind tucks it away so quickly and carefully that I don’t even know it was there or that it happened. When I try to remember what it was like around then, to try and peel away the corners of the giant memory-hole-sized piece of metaphorical duct tape, the only thing I can access is a weird feeling of running in a direction that I wasn’t looking in. Almost like I was running headlong but looking to the side so that I couldn’t see what was ahead of me.

I rely pretty heavily on my memory and my ability to be very intentional and specific about what I am doing and why, so finding these big gaps is seriously upsetting.

I didn’t think that any of my adult life with children would require this kind of invisibility cloak. It hurts to consider what it has cost me, and it wounds me to realize that I only do this when it’s the only way that I can survive it.

if I can’t trust my memories, what can I trust?

I have to trust my written memories when I have them; journals and blog posts and shit I said on Facebook or the artist formerly known as Twitter. I have to trust the memories of the people who were loving me and supporting me, because they can remember things that I forgot.

This isn’t to say that I am ready for a firehose of information, because I don’t think that would be good for me. I’d probably forget more things just to make sure I was going to be okay.

I’m paradoxically grateful to my own mind for doing its best to keep me safe and okay, although I am still in shock from the realization that there are things I definitely forgot on purpose, things that are still close enough to me in time that I would have thought it would be reflexive to recall them.

I’m not sure if I’m okay, but I can’t stay here in these feelings for too long.

I’m not actually sure how to define ‘too long’ — I guess what I think I need is to have long enough to process the feelings and give them the time they deserve, but not long enough for my mind to decide it’s been too much.

Part of why I write here is to bleed off some of the pressure of the years of trauma and grief I’ve experienced, but it’s so hard to write when it really hurts. I often can’t give myself anything but the freedom to cry and stay in bed for a little while.

There’s no resolution here for me, but I think it’s important to use my personal writing to reflect whatever is actually going on at any given moment, because what if I forget again? I should give myself a way to remember, if that’s what I want to do later.


featured image is a photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.


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