Living in the past… the phrase often brings up images of middle-aged people who never made much of their lives, who have so little joy in their present lives that they have to place an undue emphasis on their past accomplishments in order to feel that their lives have had any meaning at all. And often, those past accomplishments are relatively insignificant in and of themselves, like having been a cool kid or a star athlete in high school. Like this guy.
(This is an original post, but I’ve written on similar topics over the last few months on my personal Facebook page.) As I have now attained middle age, I’ve thought a lot more about this idea of living in the past, because it’s something I’ve started doing a bit of. I’ve amassed quite a collection of ’80s and ’90s music, because it reminds me of when life was simpler and the future seemed to hold a lot of hope and promise that hasn’t always come to pass (and, well, because some of it was just good music, of course). I’ve also mentioned before that I host an event at my house a few times a year that involves staying up late playing old video games from the ’80s and ’90s. And when I read my Facebook news feed, most of my friends from high school and college that I’m still in touch with are posting things about what their kids are doing, and jokes about how they never stay up past 10 anymore, whereas I’m posting about how I stayed up until 4am at a blues dancing party or how I sat in the back of a pickup truck watching the stars and making Doctor Who-themed Yo’ Mama jokes with friends who are at least a decade younger than me. (Yo’ mama so fat, she’s bigger on the outside. Yo’ mama so old, she and the Doctor were in the same kindergarten class. Yo’ mama so ugly, she’s the reason the Weeping Angels cover their eyes.)
I know why I do those things. Because I can and because they’re awesome. I’m good at video games made before 1994, and I’m not as good at the ones made after that. Being with friends all night is fun. But I have to be mindful of reality too. The ’90s are gone, and no amount of sitting in a bean bag chair playing A Link To The Past while watching X-Files will change that. I have to live within the world the way it is in 2014, mindful of the fact that I am 37 years old; some things have to be done differently from when I was a teenager and a college student. I don’t have football to look back on like Al Bundy does, but I look back on being in high school and college, because back then, life was easy, every year brought new classes and new opportunities, and the path to success was simple: study hard and get good grades. I’m good at studying hard and getting good grades. I’m not good at doing whatever it is to succeed in life as an adult.
I was reminded of this in a rather harsh way a few months ago. (Some of my real-life friends have heard this story before.) I tend to be rather sentimental; if you have written me a letter on paper, a birthday card, a form letter for Christmas, anything in the regular mail within the last 20 years, I probably still have it. While cleaning out the garage, I found a box that contained all the personal mail I had received from the time I moved out of my parents’ house in 1994 until I moved to Sacramento County in early 2006. At the bottom of that box were fourteen letters written to me by a pen pal of sorts that I had from 1994 to 1996. She was one of the first girls I talked to in an AOL chat room back when that was still a new thing for me; she rarely did AOL chat rooms, but gave me her address and phone number to stay in touch. And I did, for a year and a half. We lost touch rather abruptly; I think life just got in the way and she didn’t have time to write anymore.
Anyway, I read those letters again a few months ago and got to thinking about tracking her down, here in the age of Facebook and Google. I debated whether or not to do it, because it would be great to hear from her again, but since I didn’t know what she’d been doing since 1996, I had no idea how she turned out, and I might find out something that would tarnish the happy memories I had from when we were younger. I eventually decided to go for it, and after looking through about 40 people with the same name who came up on a Facebook search, I found her, and I sent her a message.
A few days later, before she had replied, I went to Picnic Day* at UC Davis (and I listened to a mix CD of ’90s music on the way over). While walking around the campus, I discovered that the dorm where I lived freshman year—the same dorm room where I lived for much of the time I had been in touch with that girl, where the first ten of the fourteen letters had been sent—had been torn down. I would never see my old room again, because it didn’t exist. And that really got me thinking about how, even if she did write back, even if we did get back in touch, there was never any way things would be the same. I was remembering her as a teenager, and if she wrote back, it would be the present-day 35-year-old version of her, not the teenager that I loved writing to and hearing from so much back in the ’90s. She did write back, a few days after seeing that my old dorm wasn’t there anymore, about a week after I wrote her, but only to say that she didn’t remember me. She said that she remembered knowing someone from Davis, but that my name didn’t ring a bell, and that that was a long time ago. She wasn’t interested in reestablishing contact. It’s understandable—as a beautiful, sweet, and friendly teenage girl, she probably had the attention of hundreds of guys, and can’t reasonably be expected to remember all of them when she’s 35—but it was still disappointing. It’s probably for the best, though, because like I said, things will never be exactly like they were in the past.
Some say that I am immature, because I still stay up late (it’s 2:22am as I write this), I play video games, I don’t do adult things, I live like a college student… whatever. I tend to think that those people can suck it. But, on the other hand, sometimes I wonder if they have a point. I have a hard time relating to people my own age because I don’t live like them, and sometimes I feel like this also has to do with why I’m still single. Whether or not that block is real or just in my head is something I need to figure out. I don’t want to change who I am, or change my lifestyle to fit in with others; that goes against everything I stand for. But it’s not healthy to keep living in denial either. The trick is to find a healthy balance… and that’s something I’m still working on.
* Picnic Day is alcohol-free and family friendly. If this conflicts with what you have heard about Picnic Day, then you mistakenly have Picnic Day confused with people who use Picnic Day as an excuse to get drunk off campus. Do your research. And, by all means, go to Picnic Day, because it’s awesome, but stay on campus.