FOOTPRINTS, whether in sand or snow, are a good way to measure how far we have come. Someone, somewhere, I’m sure, once used these prints to retrace their journey and find their way back to where they were from. Eventually the distance becomes so great that over time waves or wind conceal the path we have made for ourselves and we lose sight of our starting point and how we ended up where we are now.
It is mostly troublesome to me that we can never go back. There is this ever-impending and non-avoidable yet somehow simultaneously unexpected shift into our adult lives, probably the biggest shift we experience throughout our life’s development: we lose grasp of our innocent ways, our carefree attitudes and the feeling that the future is a time and world away from the ever-so-present “now”. I definitely still live for the present and probably sometimes have little or no awareness for the consequences of the future but not with the reckless abandon and even hope and faith that all will be well that I did back then.
In springtime we shed our layers of protection against the cold and spill out onto the streets into the sunshine and warmth. This is always when I have felt my most powerful but am always actually in a very extremely vulnerable and disadvantaged state. A few days after passing my driving exam and getting my license when I was nineteen (third time’s the charm), I bought a car at the end of winter. I had been at my first real job about a year and had gotten a significant refund on my tax return and I used that as the down-payment on the vehicle. I named the car Sally after Charlie Brown’s love-stricken, token little sister, who is both a little entitled to what she thinks she deserves but simultaneously scorned by the injustices held against her for what she really wants being just out of reach — a little (a lot) like me — and because it was a used car, also after the second-hand Sally-Ann (Salvation Army) stores I grew up going to because ironically, as a youngest child, even when I grew out of being given hand-me-downs, I was paying for them. (I would later return to the Sally-Ann I grew up going to after briefly living out of the neighbourhood as well as years of only wearing label brands and would walk in on any given day without planning on looking for anything only to stumble upon the perfect high-waisted three-button-up dark denim jean shorts, a pair of well-worn mint-condition white shin-high cowboy boots that fit like a glove and other diamond in the rough treasures.)
So I had this car and driving it catapulted me into a state of excitement and euphoria, starting innocently enough with picking my friends up for late-night McD’s at the 24 hour drive through near the expressway. Then it became shopping trips to the fancy, remote mall where all the parking lots are named after different kinds of gems and being a new driver not thinking to pay attention to where I parked, realizing after my spending splurge and I was already in tears of panic that my beloved Sally had been stolen only to find out I had been walking around in circles in the wrong lot. I loved listening to the radio during traffic and eventually would go for long night drives to the middle of nowhere — literally nowhere — at the crack of dawn. This is the line it crossed from euphoria to mania: I once drove for at least four hours just following my instincts and compulsions until I came across a large field. I drove across a path around it and was confronted with a ten foot crucifix. My delusions had consumed me and it was at this moment that I began to believe that I was special, so special, even to a superior religious figure-like level. (I mean, full on second-coming of Jesus Christ.) I got home at four in the morning without navigation or a gas top-up. It was a miracle I got home at all. I was so out of my realm I just kept driving until I found signs for somewhere I recognized again. I got up as usual the next morning after minimal hours of sleep and went to work.
Spring cleaning has not been my friend and the urge to divest myself from everything and everyone I once knew has left me mostly alone and with large gaps in my memory. A few times now I have done a total purge wanting to get rid of anything remotely resembling anything I had liked or been about in the past including clothes, furniture, momentos, jewelry, books, cookware, electronics, hygiene products, all of it. I would come home and get drunk at my computer alone and tweet to my some-hundred twitter followers about niche things like any and every single time Lady Gaga had spoken French. It got to a point where I had nothing in my one bedroom apartment but a bed with linens, under thirty articles of clothing, my blackberry, a duffel bag and a few personal products. The kitchen cabinets and fridge were void of everything, there was nothing to sit on and I had even purged of all the furniture I could manage to get rid of on my own; my mother’s beloved antique dressers gaping drawerless in a corner as I had emptied them and brought the liftable pieces down to the garbage room. (It didn’t occur to me until later the double-entendre of having left my drawers in the hallway but c’est la vie.)
I wanted to be able to pack up and move at a moment’s notice. I knew that I wasn’t going to stay, I just knew that I was leaving, without a plan for anywhere to go, but what I didn’t know is that I would lose my beautiful apartment and where I was going was to be packing up my albeit sparse but designer wardrobe from impulse purchases and shopping sprees and moving to the psych ward. Somewhere in The Great Get-Rid-Of, I lost myself and any trace of who I once was. On the ward I would put together a puzzle one of my aunts bought me of a heart made of smaller hearts, surrounded by a border also made of small hearts that I still have today framed on a piece of bristol board. Little did I know at the time I was literally trying to piece my own heart back together by slowly coming off my bender and realizing I had lost it all, and all for nothing. The second stupidest thing I’ve ever done was after all that to hang on to Sally the Special Edition Civic. I was too stubborn to let go of what had arguably facilitated my blowout breakdown because holding onto her made it somehow feel like it was all a little bit real, that I had been somewhat right.
I loved mania and I crave a day where everything will happen for a reason once again, but for now I am left with the mess of being converted to agnosticism even after what I thought to be a deeply religious experience in finding Jesus (in the middle of a field, in the middle of night, in the middle of nowhere), a student of cynicism, and a proponent of nonbelief, in anybody, any time, any place, or any thing. The harshest reality I have ever had to come to accept was that nobody was going to be there for me like I needed or wanted them to be and that I couldn’t rely on anything implicitly or explicitly promised, ever. Even in summer, it can snow in June (true story) and even surrounded, it can be just you.
Out with the old and in with the new is a concept that doesn’t always serve us well. It helps to have a trail of crumbs and remnants of our lives past to remind us of just how far we have come and the lessons we have learned. Beyond that, having a history and knowing where you came from is important in understanding your patterns and behaviours now. Know that a lifetime ago and a lifetime from today are both relatively really close and also really far away. You can never get back what is lost, so take care of and with your old things. They are relics of a universe aside and connections to and stories of people and places that won’t be around forever, because after all, every moment is fleeting and we must hold on to them if not to serve ourselves but to serve the times and relationships that helped us develop into what and who we are in the present. You never know what memento will serve as a portal and proof of a time passed.
I believe that it is always helpful to have indicators of where we have come from and when you get down to the very basics, the memories we make are what’s most precious and anything that facilitates hanging onto them is a useful tool. Take pictures of your feet and footprints everywhere you travel as a reminder that we are just as impermanent people as the impermanent places we visit and we have the influence to alter, and have alter us, forever and to have the reminder of of how temporary everything is.
Years later, during my third, this time six-month long, stay in the psych ward I came across a puzzle piece. I don’t know what compelled me to keep it, but then I came across two more and I kept these puzzle pieces on my nightstand. My maternal Gramma told me after my mum died that bad things happen in threes, and I have heard to the contrary that good things happen in threes too. The puzzle pieces were just a funny coincidence that happened to occur in a trio and I could write something meaningful here about how each piece represented some virtue to live by and although I don’t have these pieces anymore but do remember that they were all different sizes and depths, clearly from different puzzles, I do find comfort that this is proof of where there is some, there is more and even if we come from different backgrounds, we are all just lonely puzzle pieces in the same damn world. Even when we think we may belong somewhere, we can lose our surroundings and end up misfits among misfits, all just trying to find our way.