Don’t look back.
If I could give myself one piece of advice, that would be it. I would tell myself this, again and again, year after year. I’d whisper it in my ear as I stare out the window, dreaming of my youth. I’d say it and tug on my arm when I look at my brother, remembering how we played together so long ago. I’d scream it to myself when I walk away from my dad, remembering how I’d run up and hug him after he came home from work back in preschool. I’d slap myself in the face and tell myself, “don’t look back” as I cried over the years for so many people….
I guess I’ve always been sort of a nostalgic person. I used to keep journals and scribble my thoughts furiously, telling myself that they’d someday matter. I hang onto pictures, pour through them and will myself to relive the happiness I felt in them. I replay my memories like an annoying film montage that can’t ever seem to pause. The past holds so much knowledge, so many mistakes, and I constantly search through it so that my future may end up differently…or the same.
But I’m trying to stop this. My nostalgia gets me in trouble because it plays on all the softness in my heart. In those moments when I long for the closeness I once felt for my family, guilt, pain, and anger start appearing. When I remember my happy childhood I often feel sad, because it ended too soon. And when I think of the good times, the times I’ll never get back with the people I’ll never get back…well, then I start questioning. Did it have to end up that way? What did I do wrong?
What. Did. I. Do. Wrong.
That used to be the thing I whispered to myself in nights spent alone. Instead of advice, I repeated that question to myself, gradually chipping away at my self-esteem. The depression that kept coming back to me came back through my memories. It attached itself to my past, sucking away all the happiness I once felt and leaving emptiness, leaving blame. If the present sucked, it was my fault. And everyone knows you can’t repeat history. But I tried, anyway.
I went back again and again to the same relationships, the same friendships, because I loved those people and I missed them. But what I loved and missed more were how they once made me feel…whole. Happy. I had so much trouble letting go, because I was always looking over my shoulder, wanting to make the past a reality again.
But things can’t be undone, can they? A fight will always be remembered; the words said can never be unsaid. The carelessness that someone gave toward your heart will always leave behind a new insecurity, just like a love once felt will always leave behind some pain. Even though I would try my hardest to rekindle laughs, wild nights of summer, unhinged passion, and unblemished trust…I failed. Those friendships would fade again when I wasn’t looking, and those relationships withered away in my hands.
So I tell myself, “Don’t look back.”
It’s true, the past will always be a part of the present; I cannot pretend to be indifferent to the things I once held so dear. But the past doesn’t have to remain my vicious cycle of retracing my steps. I can accept my mistakes; I can let go of the rose-colored glasses peering into my recollections. The past was never perfect, just like the present, and I can’t let myself cherry-pick the good times. Life goes on…One happy memory can always be followed by another, and sometimes you find happiness where you don’t expect it to be.
By welding my own destiny, and following the path of the present I can move on. So when I dwell on the dysfunction of my family, I think of how independent it has made me. When I feel the sting of rejection from old friends who have turned into strangers, I remind myself of the new friendships I have created. And yes, even when my stomach drops in disappointment when recalling the relationships that have gone awry…I manage to hold strong, reminding myself why things ended the way they did. Because I find that the older I get, the more I define my experiences, instead of the other way around. If I’m looking back at my past I won’t get to see what’s coming up next. Life moves forward so I look forward…So I can look forward to life.