"You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad." -- The Matrix
Writing the following essay was way more difficult that it should have been. The process made me so anxious that I felt like vomiting. At times, I felt that I was actively suppressing my urge to upchuck. At the end, I was emotionally drained and a mental wreck. This whole thing shouldn't have uncentered me so. It's not even a remotely reasonable response. During the writing, it felt very much like I was unsuccessfully trying to dig out a deeply buried splinter with nothing but my fingers and a dull pocket knife. When you find a memory with emotions that so completely dwarf the memory itself, then you know must be large beasts moving just below the surface of your mind.
In order to grow, you must face your fears and little bits of self-hatred head-on. Through whatever method, you must come to a point of indifference about them or be forever limited by them. Certain memories cause me to cringe, flinch, feel embarrassed, panic and generally be shameful about who I am as a person. Chasing after them and exposing them to the light of my conscious mind is the only way I know of to figure out what can be done about them. Generally this is a difficult but straightforward task. The memory has usually either distorted or degraded by time or was experienced by a person who no longer exists and thus say nothing the person I am today. However, one memory does not admit analysis...
Before we begin, you need a little context. During my freshman year in High School I played varsity basketball. Skill had nothing to do with making the varsity team. We were just such a small school that we needed everyone we could get just to field a team. Our coach was a complete asshole and moreover, he hated me with a passion. He resented that he had to play this complete nerd who started out barely being able to catch a basketball or even dribble.
I have a very strong visceral memory of confronting him in his office after a one particular game. During half-time he had thrown things around the locker room and used an pointless amount of profanity to tell us just how worthless he considered us. At one point, he even jumped up and down, bright red from anger, like he was trying to not only kill some imaginary object on the ground, but thoroughly flatten it. Afterwords I went into his office, sat down in the chair across the desk from him and started to choke back tears. The tears weren't a response to any emotional blow he had dealt me. I was terrified of that man. Fighting through it all, I told him that we deserved more respect, explained in detail how it demoralized the team and described the manner in which the tirade had led us to lose respect for him. While I have no recollection of how he responded to me, I do remember the intense anger in his eyes as he sat in his chair, posed in a way that suggested he wasn't even listening and that instead might be imagining the horrible things he wanted to happen to me.
This is a memory I should be proud of, right? Instead I feel incredible shame any time it enters my mind. Worst of all, I have *no* clue why.
Some memories morph over time until they barely qualify as a memory at all. Sometimes they lose information about the actual sensations you felt during the moment and just become an arrangement of objects and actions recalled viewed in the third-person. Sometimes the memories lose all connection to the actual event and instead are just the rote memorization of what you would say if you were telling a story about the event. This one is neither of those. Direct and visceral recollections of raw sensations permeate it and everything is in the first person. It is intense. It is solid. It is saturated with emotion.
Why don't we compare it to a very similar event that actually evokes pride whenever I recall it?
The team was running a drill in practice and everyone but me improperly every time they did it. We repeated it a large number of times, and I performed it flawlessly each time. While coach was definitely mad, he wasn't anywhere near his breaking point. Then, after performing it correctly so many times, I screwed it up. I made exactly the mistake everyone else had made. Coach turned bright red, threw his clipboard to the ground and got two inches from my face as he yelled and barked. I don't recall what he said because I tuned him out and felt the grey woosh of complete disregard for what one is hearing. Besides, it wasn't important what he said. His message was clear. His hot breath dampened my face and my ears rung when he was done yelling. When I knew he had completed his tirade, I pulled my jersey off with one hand and folded it neatly. I dropped my shorts, stepping out of them when they came to rest around my ankles. I picked them up with my foot, grabbed them and folded them as well. I looked coach in the eye and said "You don't get to treat me like that," as I handed him my uniform. In nothing more than a pair of underwear, a pair of socks and a pair of shoes, I strode back to the locker room, dressed and went home. Though I did not cry, I was just as terrified of this man as I was before. Walking back I cringed at all the possible, but previously unconsidered consequences of my actions. I had just quit the team and all the cheerleaders had seen me in my jockey shorts. That would have crushed nearly any teenager, but I held my head high and walked confidently until I was well out of sight. When you do something like that you had best do it all the way or not at all.
I am intensely proud of this memory. It's just as direct as the other, is recalled completely in the first person and involves the same sort of actions and situations. Why, then, does it inspire a completely different emotion in me? What's the difference? What's going on? How can I find the correct interpretations of these memories?
This matters to me. Were these memories to have become one of the shadow memories I discussed earlier, I would be able to just discard it. I don't trust those memories. Though they're often useful for entertaining friends, they do not serve to define any portion of who I am. These memories are definitely important parts of the story I tell to explain how I became who I am today. Until I figure out what role the shame plays in the first memory, I think I'll be stuck in some emotional limbo, constantly churning.
I think the reason I didn't cry the second time around is that the event wasn't premeditated. I had no time to consider horrible outcomes. It was lived in the moment.
I can't recall what the outcome of having quit the team, nor do my parents. I do know that I continued to play and that the other kids still didn't respect me. I don't think I would have played unless the coach had asked me to come back in person... but that's only a guess. Strangely, my teammates didn't start respecting me until, with more precise execution than I ever mustered in a basketball game, I scored a basket for the other team... but that's a completely different story.