I generally keep track of time by summers. This was the summer I went to that place, the other the summer I turned 21, the next the one where I dated that friend of this guy.
I'm packing for a trip today, which involves quite a feat of precision. In scanning my tank tops, I saw one I remembered buying before a particular summer trip to the left coast. The shirt and the memories immediately threw me back to that trip, but I won't bore the reader with those emotional details. Instead, the shirt brings another kind of revelation - so many summers have passed in a certain adult/pre-adult period of my life that I cannot keep them separate.
Let me explain. The trip from which the shirt originated took place in Summer 2006. In packing for my trip now, Summer 2008, it took several steps to uncover the right date for this fated shirt's trip. It feels like too many people overlap, like I spent too many summers with too many of the same thoughts, and now they've grown to a blur.
I've been out of college for over three years. (This is another handy measure of my time - how long has it been since the safe haven of college?) When that gap was only two, it was easy to pick tiny details from their appropriate year. Now the years are three, and it still seems I spent them loving the same person, taking the same trip in two variations, waiting in the same sweltering months for the same visits over and over.
Likewise, the years in college take on more of a graininess. Instead of taking that trip to NY the summer after my junior year, it simply becomes a trip I took one summer in college. Lake trips are virtually indistinguishable, and trying to place the night I saw Wilco or Regina Spektor or (hehehe) Tom Petty in the sweltering heat becomes a certain impossibility.
I read a short story last night in which a character has a total recall that makes every "memory" a part of her very real present. Here's a bit from author Deborah Eisenberg:
"No act of mind or the psyche was needed for Sharon to reclaim anything, because nothing in her brain ever sifted down out of precedence. The passage of time failed to distance, blur, or diminish her experiences. The nacreous layers that formed around the events in one's history to smoothe, distinguish, and beautify them never materialized around Sharon's; her history skittered here and there in its original sharp grains on a depthless plane that resembled neither calendar nor clock."
First of all, this is gorgeous, and I'm realizing now that it must have stuck with me and catalyzed this train of thought without my recognizing it til halfway through. I'm finding a lot of comfort from this passage, and its ability to paint this recall as sharp and painful. At the same time, it's a punch in the stomach. How does our brain decide that it's time to smooth, to beautify, to forget? Why does summer ever have to end?