I just finished reading The Time Traveler’s Wife in the last week. I related strongly to both the main characters.
There was a time early in our marriage when, like Clare, I spent all my time waiting for my husband to come back to me. He would disappear–sometimes for a short time, and sometimes for longer–from our relationship.
To say that I did not handle this constructively, would be a gross understatement. As I’ve said before, for the first ten years we were both sincerely awful at being married people.
For the past several years, though, it’s been me who occasionally disappears. I dissolve into the past. Involuntarily, but still. It’s no fun to be married to someone who sometimes just isn’t there.
I’ll be driving to work, or sweeping the kitchen floor, or folding laundry, and suddenly I’m elsewhere. Elsewhen.
I am lost, drowning in a memory that has dragged me backward like a riptide, merciless and terrible.
Up until this year, the places I get pulled back to have been uniformly awful. For a long time, the best I could manage was to hold myself together until it let me go. I eventually learned some techniques to knock myself back to the present (assuming I could keep the presence of mine to do it.)
But something amazing has been happening this year.
Sometimes, I go someplace good. I don’t get dragged there. It’s more like a window or a door opening up. It’s a sudden bright invitation to a scene from my past.
Like the bad memories, often it’s a smell that triggers it. Or a song. Particular combinations of sounds or colors. Sometimes, it’s a train of thought that suddenly clicks like the tumblers in a lock and opens up into a memory that I’d long since lost.
I can’t help but think I’m not alone in my difficulty remaining in the here and now. Retreating to the past, which for all its pain and bittersweet nostalgia at least holds certainty, is tempting to everyone. In difficult times, worried speculations about what might happen in the future can have a terrible, fascinating attraction to your attention, as well.
Perhaps we all need help figuring out how to stay present, in the present. What about you? Do you find your attention pulled to the past, or absorbed by what might happen in the future? How do you stay present? What works?