Recently, a barrage of people from my past regained entry into my life. I didn’t merely connect with them on social media, I reestablished relationships with people who years ago, dissipated due to detours on our diverse paths. This experience compelled me to contemplate all the lost memories of a forgotten youth, one I had been ashamed of for years. “I think I’m going to die, isn’t this what happens just before people die?” I had told a friend as my life was flashing before my eyes. “Maybe this is happening to you because you’re now open,” was his sage response.
A few weeks ago, I had a reunion planned with five long ago friends I hadn’t seen in nearly thirty years. We had met our first week at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. We were misfits amongst Mafia types on an island of Joeys, Tommys and Ginos, where a hint of refuse always scented the air. When we weren’t hiding out in our dorm rooms listening to U2 and UB40, we would go into the city and drink Guinness in the East Village or on Columbus Avenue.
I had gone to New York to escape my past, hoping all the distractions of the city would allow me to forget. But what ended up happening was I entered into an even darker hell, and these five were there to witness it. For nearly three decades, we kept in touch at a safe distance. I knew seeing them again would spark the memories, reignite the pain of the most traumatic experience of my life. So I stayed away. 3000 miles away, believing I would never have to revisit those memories again.
My hand trembled as I deftly applied my makeup in the hotel room, preparing for our reunion. I knew that amongst all the comical reminisces, they would speak of my terrible tragedy. How could they not? But this was a chapter in my life I needed to reread and I knew once I did, it would free me to live out the rest of my life.
When I saw the crew, it was as though no time had passed. Yes, we all aged, but we had done so gracefully, beautifully, still holding on to the essence of who we were all those years ago. As families do, we all fell back into our youthful roles: Ray Ray, the comedian, who still snorted when he laughed and did a perfect imitation of what he deemed, The Teri Dance, with one hand holding a cigarette and the other seductively caressing the body. Johnny, who had been not only my best friend, but the first man I had ever allowed myself to care about still spoke in staccato, laughing as he gave his rendition of our drunken moments, sleeping on the Staten Island ferry and stealing beer signs from Village pubs. Gaetana, my roommate was the one who changed the least. She was as beautiful and gracious as ever. She was the one who introduced me to the world of alternative eighties music, as well as fine Irish beers. And then there was Sue, the thread that kept us connected all those years. She had always been the maternal one, the logical one, and with her, I always felt safe. Perhaps that was why, when she left Wagner College, I strayed into the shadowy side of New York life.
After hours of catching up and laughing over anecdotes, I didn’t feel the need to mention what had happened to me. I realized that the funny, poignant stories far outweighed the unfortunate ones. I found it amazing that the five of us only spent a total of one year together, yet that one year was so influential, it kept us connected for over half our lives. For me, it was a time of growth, a time of pain, a time of great challenges and survival. Maybe it was the wine, or perhaps the looseness of the conversation, but as nonchalantly as talking about the weather, I mentioned my infamous moment. Once it let loose from my tongue, I released it to the Universe, so that it was no longer confined inside of me, eating away at my soul. And the oddest thing was, it felt as though I was speaking about the life of another, or a movie I had once seen. For the first time ever, I embraced the young, naïve girl I once was, I loved her, I forgave her, but most of all, I was proud of her for overcoming the hurdles life had placed in front of her. But I was no longer able to associate with the experience. It no longer caused me any shame any pain.
We parted, promising to reunite every year, a promise I meant to keep. A few days later, I met with another friend I hadn’t seen in several years. He revealed to me he was guarded around women. To prove how freeing it was to let down the walls, I told him what had happened to me in New York, a secret I didn’t share with many. The words came forth easily with no emotion attached. This proved to me that this was a chapter I could finally put to rest and continue to fill in the blank pages of my future with an untainted heart.
There is a difference between obsessing and acknowledging when it comes to experiences from our past. They say in meditation, when a thought enters your mind, don’t obsess, but instead acknowledge it and let it go. It’s the same with life. Yes, it’s a difficult practice, but once perfected it leaves room for so many more beautiful experiences to come forth. It’s best not to forget, after all, it is the surplus of life encounters that make us all who we are today. But there are so many more events lined up to encompass our lives. Why not make room for them to enter, to experience with an open heart, and an open mind.