Where Are The People We Used To Be?

I’ve been thinking about the past lately. I’ve been thinking about home — the dingy-brown duplex I grew up in, clutched alongside the suburbia of Midwestern culture. Where a neighboring house might also be home to a small ranch of horses. Or a vegetable garden that’s ripe with green tomatoes.

The building is no longer a home to me or my family. Though I still dream about the grainy white carpet in our living room or the purple spotted vase in the kitchen.

When my parents divorced five years ago, our family scattered throughout parts of the country. They moved to the South and the Northeast. Something that also essentially moved me to New York — a place I desperately love, but with a vicious pleasure.

I guess you could say a lot’s changed since it happened. My mother went bankrupt. My father moved down south and remarried and my sister, who is also getting married soon, is no longer on speaking terms with my father.

I moved to the city throughout this time. Where the glitter and concrete of a vibrant metropolis can easily distract you from the memories of a dysfunctional family that no longer “functions.”

Even glancing at the night sky, peppered with the lights from a thousand apartment windows, I can still hear my parents bickering about bills.

But I can also see them sitting together in the audience at my ballet recital. Or making Mickey Mouse waffles from a waffle iron they got as a wedding present.

That’s not them anymore. I know that and so does my sister. There’s a sort of dreary and confusing sadness that comes with divorce.

I knew for a while my parents were unhappy together, but what I couldn’t figure out after — even now — was if they were ever being who they really were in their marriage.

Both my parents were everything you’d want in a responsible family, minus tendencies towards alcoholism and depression — something I also struggle with in my adult life.

Looking back briefly, my childhood could be summed up in Mattel Barbie accessories and wine coolers. It was a mirage from the real world filled with plastic toys, ballet lessons and parents who held it together for the birthday parties and holiday occasions but who were also closer to the edge than I’d realized. They were playing a role they weren’t meant to play.

This is not to say that my parents aren’t responsible adults or good people. They just didn’t’ know much about parenting. They pretended.

And again, this is not to say that they didn’t plan for both my sister and I. They did. They wanted children.

I look at them now and I honestly wonder where my family went. It’s almost as if I could peak into a window of our old house and see them in there as these other people or my parents.

But they’re not there. And they weren’t really the same for a while. My memories of them as parental figures died long before the divorce.

Where did they go?

And where was I going? Where am I going? And who am I?

As I venture into the endless dating world of city life, where the brutal pleasures of silent heart break can be easily remedied with an online dating meetup; a drunken night out with a group of friends or even a lingering smile from a dark and mysterious stranger on the subway.

But the happiness fades. The lust fades. It all fades. And then you’re left alone, by yourself, wondering how in a city of close to nine million people, there’s not one that understands you. Understands me. Someone that wouldn’t trade you in for an ex-girlfriend with bigger breasts. Genuine human emotion between two people. Is it possible?

As I get ready for a dinner date this Tuesday — with someone I just met on OkCupid — I’m wondering how I’ll portray myself. Of course I’ll be me, but without the crazier parts. Or should I include my dreams about jellyfish coming down the stairs, my obsession with turning knitting projects into weird objects and my secret pastime of picking my nose when no one is looking?

Why shouldn’t I? Or is it too much for a first meeting? Am I just too crazy? Who am I really? And why can’t I just settle for something that’s ok — that’s not spectacular — that’s not perfect? A fatal flaw or a blessing, I really don’t know.

And as I discover more about myself and who I think I am and want to be, the more I say screw it all. If no one can match the standards of someone I think I want, what’s the point? And if I got it, would I really even want it then?

I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking too much. No. I’m always thinking too much.

And I think in some alternate universe perhaps the people we used to know in a friend or a loved one are there — stuck between the past and the present. Flitting in and out of our memories and calling us to change ourselves and the people we want to be or we could become.

In the kitchen of my old house, I can see my parents making waffles and the joy and excitement it brought two 30-year-olds cooking for a 5-year-old and a toddler.

And I see myself at 5. Then, I might not have ever dreamt I’d be living in a city full of shiny lights and fancy stores. In a city where confused strangers are floating around, looking for their version of living. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

featured image – Lennart Tange

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