“Your past is just a story, and once you realize this, it has no power over you.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk
Every so often, the past comes back to haunt us. No matter how zen we think we are, no matter how far we have come, the past has a special power to sneak in and rock the boat. This is one of those stories…
A while back, I got a Facebook contact request from a friend from years ago. Nothing unusual there—we have all had exes, school acquaintances and old friends pop up out of the woodwork via this amazing ghost machine.
This friend was from when I was married, and she had been friends with both my husband and I. She was younger than us and I think looked up to us as role models. In fact, when we separated, I had to comfort her as she was so upset. Even though our split was pretty friendly, some people still seemed to drift to one side or the other. She and I lost contact. But now, thanks to the amazing Book of Faces, here she was again, wanting to catch up 10 years later.
So we did. We did the, “What have you been up to?” thing for a bit, but quickly and inexorably, the conversation turned to the past. To my marriage. To my separation. To the things she spoke about as if I already knew…
The confused feelings she had for my husband as he flirted with her after we separated. The intimate details she knew about my marriage. The reasons he told her that he left me. The affair she was pretty sure he had.
Wow, even writing this is shifting my mood. You can only imagine what this conversation—totally out of the blue in my “now” life—did to me. It was like being bulldozed and sucker-punched and dumped on all at once. I was so far down the road from “who I was then” that my marriage seems like it happened to another person. But this conversation, these revelations were shoving it into my new world.
What the f*ck was I supposed to do with all of this information? For whatever reason, it had obviously been bothering her all this time, and she felt the need to share, no matter the consequences. I get that. But for me, this raised a sh*t-storm of questions: Was I a fool? Did this rewrite what I thought of my marriage? Did this change the fact that I thought I had a great relationship?
Does new knowledge alter our history?
Okay, I will confess I did spiral a bit for a couple of days. I am not going to pretend it was not a bit of a task to bring my thoughts and feelings back from a few wild places. But my new life is mine. I made it. It is not the past. So now, I have a choice:
Do I let new information change the past? Is my experience, my memory, altered by knowing something different now?
I mean, what are memories anyway? Just brain connections that are some sort of record of what we were feeling and experiencing at that time, right? So could new information change what I felt and experienced then?
For me, I decided, no, it couldn’t. Yes, I will own seriously struggling for a few days to process all of this information and all of the feelings that this catch-up had delivered. But still, the one thought I could not shake was, “I get to choose to keep my history as I felt it then.”
My experience of my marriage was not only set in history, it was mine to keep. That I loved him did not change. That I was committed to our marriage did not change. That I honored and appreciated the path it had put me on did not change. My memory of feeling love and joy was not going to change. If his experience was different from what I had thought, well, that was between him and his heart.
If he lied to me, that did not, in fact, change my story.
So here’s what I am thinking: The past is a powerful and wonderful thing. None of us would be here, in this moment, without it. We have all walked incredible, challenging, difficult and inspiring roads. But it is just a story. Already written and published in the library of your mind. There are no edits, no take-backs, no rewrites. Even if the “facts” change.
I am not saying this is easy… If you ever end up in a situation like mine, I would suggest the best you can do is focus on what was real for you. It took a solid effort on my part to hang on to what I knew had been my experience: love, joy, integrity, then sadness, challenge and eventually growth. I was not going to let go of what had been true and very valuable to me just because someone told me a different version.
My memories are my story. No one else’s. And I am leaving my past in the past.
Author: Tui Anderson
Image: The Girl on the Train
Editor: Travis May