I’m sitting at a small, round aluminum table, the kinds that are all the rage on patios these days, and I’m sharing a cocktail with my boyfriend while we wait for his oldest brother to join us. We‘ve been dating for over six months and this is the first time I’ll be meeting him. I’m nervous.
His brother doesn’t smile when he arrives. He wears a tight-fitting leather jacket. His jacket alone intimidates me because this jacket is cooler than all of me. He orders his drink. He’s very friendly to the waitress. Not so much to me. I fiddle with the wrapper from my straw, twisting and re-twisting until it tears. The conversation flows. At least it does between the brothers. I’m quiet until I find my “in”. Finding my “in” proves hard because I’m shy and when I’m confronted with small talk with a person I want to impress, I basically become a deer in headlights. But finally, they say something that reminds me of something and before I think about what I’m going to say, I just start talking:
“Yes! When I was a young, my favourite thing to do on Saturdays was to lie on my stomach on the red brick that surrounded our pool, eat these crisps that were tomato sauce flavor and read Nancy Drew novels!”
Except the thing that they were just talking about has nothing to do with teens, Saturdays, pools, crisps or books. I think they may have been talking about the fact that there mother had just returned from Australia. Granted, my response is random. But in the grand scheme of things it isn’t. Not really, anyway. It doesn’t reach Chaos Theory standards. Besides, I’m quite proud that I managed to form complete sentences and participate in the conversation.
He looks at me the way students look at teachers who have been lecturing for an hour. I swear if he was in a teen movie set in L.A, he’d be staring at his cuticles and slowly popping chewing gum. Eventually, he replies,
“Yeaaah, I have no response to that.”
It’s been ten years since that day and a conversation doesn’t go by when I don’t remember his reaction. You might not be like me. You might not be as sensitive. You might not feel things the way I do. You may have stronger self-esteem and would never have even registered a comment like that, let alone remember it a decade later. You may be cooler than me and laughed it off and said, “I know it’s random but you don’t understand! Those crisps were awesome!”
But I am me and I do remember it and I don’t want to be all grandiose about this, but I think, it may have changed the course of my life.
For the remainder of the time I knew him, I never said more than five words to him. Looking back, I realize that over the next few years, I became self-conscious about sharing those non-stories of my past, the ones that don’t have beginnings, middles or punch lines. I also became self-conscious about re-telling a story to the same person and having them reply, “I know. You’ve already told me this.”
Then came the social networking revolution and I became even more aware of the stuff that people don’t want to hear others talk about.
Like, don’t talk about your dreams! No-one cares! OMG! So boring! Don’t talk about the sandwich you had for lunch. NO-ONE CARES. Don’t talk about your feelings! Don’t talk about the weather. Did I mention that no-one cares! Don’t talk about the way you can’t decide between ecru or tan boots. #firstworldproblems. But please, go ahead and be snarky. Everyone loves that.
Basically I learned that if we listen to everyone, we wouldn’t be allowed to talk about anything.
And the less we talk about something the less likely it is we will remember it.
Last week, I was shocked and saddened to discover that my brother has no recollection of the time I fainted into his arms from sun-stroke. But then I remembered that there are stories my friends tell me, where I’m the protagonist, and I have no idea what they’re talking about. I honestly don’t remember.
It’s sad the things we forget. We forget all the little things (and some of the bigger things) that made up our past. We keep all this stuff to ourselves because it isn’t entertaining enough. Or it doesn’t have a lesson or moral. Or it’s just too mundane.
How many non-story stories have I forgotten because I never repeated them to anyone? How much of my life have I forgotten because I didn’t want to bore someone? How much of my life don’t I share because the voices of the NO-ONE CARES crowd echo in my mind?
On the other hand, how many times have I told someone, “Dude, I know! You’ve told me this ten-thousand times already.” How many times have I zoned out when someone tells me about that one time at band camp? How many times have I failed to acknowledge someone else’s non-story story?
I think we could all do a better job at helping each other remember the little details that made up and make up our lives.
Because the more we talk about something, the less likely we are to forget it.
Maybe next time your mother begins to tell a story you’ve heard dozens of times before; you actually sit there and listen to it again. Maybe ask a question you’ve never thought to ask. There is so much joy in being heard. How about next time someone tells you their dream, you don’t pretend you’re falling asleep? Our memories are longer when someone is listening. How about when someone tells you a non-story story about their past, one without a point or a punch line, but one that clearly means something to them, you smile and say:
“That’s such a weird and wonderful thing to remember. Tell me more.”