Reprinted with permission from Jean Ryan’s website.
By Jean Ryan
Recently I watched a video, a movie my brother-in-law made of a family reunion three decades ago: my sisters and I, along with our partners. The video lasted about an hour. I did not take my eyes off it.
I had never seen myself from such a distance. There I was, along with my beautiful sisters, young again. Our skin! Our hair! Along with the physical disparity between my former and present self, I was struck by the tension in my movements and expressions: the diffidence of youth at odds with its daring.
Women at thirty are powerful. We have not yet reached the zenith of our bloom and we are aware of this. The mayhem of our teens and twenties is over, and even if we have not fallen in love for keeps, or made much money, there is time enough ahead. The best is yet to come, we are sure of it. Old age is out there, inevitable but not pertinent.
Ironically, this faith in the future makes us vulnerable to the present, unable to claim it. The feeling that we are unworthy, unready, seeps in like smoke. We spend our days trying to hide our fears, from ourselves and everyone else. We can’t be blamed for these doubts, or for squandering those precious years with bad bets and detours. Youth has a price.
Examining the girl I was in that video made me more compassionate than nostalgic, and I felt kindhearted toward my sisters as well. I’ve been practicing tough love on myself a long time now, forgiving my body’s cave-ins at the rate they appear. As our spiritual leaders remind us, pain is resistance. The bloom is off the rose, time to tend other parts of the garden.
When the video ended I felt altered, agitated, a confusion that lasted all evening. I was not the woman, I was not the girl; I was caught somewhere between the two and uncertain how to proceed.
I’ve always thought of memory as a portal. Nudged by a thought, a scent, an image, we can reenter the past, if only for a second. This fusion is unmistakable, delightful, reminding us that time is only a construct, a handy device for organizing our lives. The truth of our existence lies in these fleeting junctures, when we are back at a place we never actually left.
Joan Didion wrote: “I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”
It wasn’t until the next day that I understood what had happened to me, why I felt so lost after seeing my younger self. I had not stayed on nodding terms with that girl, had not bothered to pay my respect. She had been there all the while, not behind me but beside me. I could not have managed without her.
Copyright 2016 Jean Ryan
Jean Ryan, a 2014 Lambda finalist in Lesbian General Fiction, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades,The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review and The Blue Lake Review. Nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister. Her debut collection of short stories, Survival Skills, was published in April 2013 by Ashland Creek Press. ‘Manatee Gardens’ has previously appeared in Blue Lake Review. Her story, Manatee Gardens, appeared in the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives, a Lambda Literary Award finalist in 2015. Please visit Jean’s website at http://jean-ryan.com/