Memory is a funny thing.
As a part of the “working my crazy out” I’ve been doing for the past few months, I’ve found a lot of my memories returning. Oddly enough, I didn’t notice they were missing until they started coming back.
I don’t think I ever fully realized how who you are is a rich, flavorful stew of the yous that you previously were. How all the shadings and gradations of your personality form from all those collected emotions and experiences and judgments and perceptions.
Which is a convoluted way of saying “I haven’t been myself lately.” I figure, at the rate I’m getting memories back, it’s probably fairly accurate to say I’ve been about 1/3 of myself lately–lately being probably the last three or four years.
The culture is reeling right now from the deaths of Ed McMahon (who put us to bed on The Tonight Show and promised that you, too, could win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes), Farrah Faucett (who served as fodder for either adolescent fantasy or emulation, depending on your gender and orientation), and of course, Michael Jackson.
If you’re a member of Generation X, and haven’t picked up on the fact that the times are changing, you’re not paying attention. We have a biracial, Gen X President in the White House, the King of Pop has joined the King of Rock ‘n Roll in the hereafter, and the record store where we spent our extended adolescence is almost extinct.
On Twitter last night, I noticed that @QueenofSpain was puzzled by the overwhelming reaction to Jackson’s death. I don’t think it’s that surprising–I think it’s a symptom of Gen X coming to terms with our own maturity and our own mortality. Sure, we had River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain to demonstrate that we weren’t immune to death–but their deaths were of the “tragic young artist” variety. They only served to reinforce that we were still the “younger generation.” People are shocked as much by the fact that Michael was 50 as they are by the fact that he has passed. When did MJ become late-middle-aged? How is that even possible? Somewhere in the back of our heads, the math works out, but it still seems wrong.
We’re not the younger generation anymore. We’re the grown-ups. Unquestionably. Unequivocally. And there’s no going back. But there is moving forward.
I had never been a huge fan of Michael Jackson, but his music was the soundtrack of my youth. So I pulled up a song of his on Blip.fm that always reminded me of a really transformative road trip I’d taken in 1993, when Dangerous was the only music I’d had on hand in the car for a 12 hour drive from Louisville to Biloxi. I ended up playing “Keep the Faith” over and over again on that trip, because I needed to keep the faith.
My life was a mess. The last two years, I’d graduated high school, gotten married, started college, entered the workforce full time, and dealt with three pretty significant personal tragedies, two of which were the deaths of family members I loved. I was leaving the only home I’d ever known to move halfway across the country because my husband had come home one day and said “Guess what? I joined the Air Force.”
So I was dropping out of college and leaving behind the full ride scholarship that nobody (most especially me) had believed I could even win in the first place.
I’ve carried the shame and guilt of the belief that I didn’t deserve a college education ever since. In my mind, I screwed up–I blew my one shot. And the major irony in all this is that of all the second, and third, and seventy-times-seven chances I’ve given other people for their screw-ups, I could never allow myself one on this.
I find myself now enrolled in fall semester classes at Indiana University Southeast. The same school I dropped out of, leaving behind the President’s Scholarship that my parents told me repeatedly not to get my hopes up about getting. My parents are/were good, loving people. But I can’t count the number of times I heard “Don’t get your hopes up,” growing up. I was probably over 30 before I had the sudden stunning realization that hope is actually a good thing, and that getting your hopes dashed won’t actually kill you.
Ready for more irony? My current tuition is being paid for by a VA program that my dad, of all people, pursued for his adult kids in the last couple of years.
I’m mildly terrified. For reasons that I’m not ready to get into here on this blog. But I’m keeping the faith.
There are no do-overs in life, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t second chances.