I have recently begun editing out huge chunks of my personal history. It is mostly in response to the fact is that many of my recollections do not reinforce my desired self-perception as wise, disciplined, self-contained and exceedingly humble.
In the course of things now, as I engage my history and play back those mental video clips, I often come across encounters that actually happened back then, in a day-to-day sort of way. Invariably, they stubbornly refuse to sustain my positive personal image. These include moments, particularly in my earlier years, that I’d just as soon hadn’t happened. And, as it turns out, they resurrect themselves in my consciousness with annoying regularity. They are not at all flattering, and, quite frankly, they make me look bad.
So I have been browsing through my historical portfolio of awkward moments, of dumb shit I’ve said or done, and systematically expunging them. I’ve decided there is no room in my personal folder for things that make me look like a goof.
I assume, by the way, that this is a normal process for older humans. As passages narrow and doors close, we become a tad more self-analytic. We recall and then examine some of our behaviors in the light of what we have learned since then.
And for many of us, it is not a pretty sight. Sometimes we can forgive ourselves, and sometimes we are not ready. Sometimes our transgressions are so stupid as to be humorous. Sometimes they are so appalling as to be unforgivable.
But personally, I find that in most all cases they make me uncomfortable. And as we know, in this current American society, if one is made to feel uncomfortable, one can lie, cheat and steal with more-or-less total impunity to avoid it. So I am, in this contemporary fashion, intent on pretending that none of it happened. And I’m making some headway at it, I might add.
Part of my motivation here is that I have developed ‘a condition’. There is such an affliction, and there is a term for it. It is called “Shame Shudder”. Shame Shudder is “a sudden feeling of embarrassment or disgust about elements of your past behavior. This is often followed by a physical reaction which is generally spontaneous and involuntary.” You will perhaps recognize it. It is a certifiable Thing, though not yet covered by Medicare.
Let’s say that you are in your dentist’s waiting room, just ruminating about stuff, and your mind wanders back to your freshman year in college. This, by the way, is a minefield for Shame Shudder. One thing leads to another, as thoughts often do, and the next you know you are completely reliving that night when you were first introduced to Rosie O’Grady as a first-rate stress reliever, a source of personal charm and your new BFF. That night, when you had your earliest first-person encounter with the term “cringe-worthy”. Yeah, THAT night!
NO, forget about THAT night. That one is already ex post facto dis-remembered. It’s been permanently deleted and therefore, for our purposes, it never happened. But for similar if not so humiliating nights, there are several levels of reaction, depending on the degree of your recklessness and folly.
The 1st ‘Shudder’ is a mild head shake. “Oh, man. I can’t believe you did that.”
The 2nd is a low moan. As the recollection firms up, there is a semi-audible grunt. Unn--ngh. “You didn’t!?! Really? You knucklehead!” Additionally, your face and shoulders may reflexively scrunch up some.
The 3rd is a loud curse. “@?#$%&!” This will likely be emitted involuntarily in very inappropriate settings. Such as a dentist’s office. Heads will turn toward you.
The 4th is the full-on Homer Simpson—“D’Oh!” This is a real doozie and will likely be followed by a sharp slap up-side your own head. Everyone in the room will look away immediately. And continue looking the other way. Until and well after you leave the waiting room.
I do not generally recognize the person in these replayed and relived scenes. It certainly looks like “me” and talks like “me”, but it doesn’t feel like it was “me”. “That couldn’t be ‘me’, man,” I argue. “Au contraire, mon ami,” the weight of evidence replies.
It feels like it was some other impaired lost soul, seeking respect, recognition, attention, identity, a place under the bleeping sun. Someone practicing how to be a human being and making an infernal mess of it. Yeah, I reckon that was “me”. It’s just a hard pill to swallow.
It is not my perception, by the way, that I have been significantly any more juvenile, petty, self-centered, petulant or wrong-headed than many others of my acquaintance. It may be so, but I seem to recall that I had plenty of company.
And I am not presumptuous enough to believe that I was any more original or creative at being an arrogant dope than many of our peers. A casual scan of any of our yearbooks will certainly reveal dozens of my associates at least as blameworthy.
As I see it now, being an ass-hole is a relative thing. It is a subjective assessment, and it varies from crowd to crowd. Day to day actually. Some are without-a-doubt permanent ass-holes. They are professionals at it. They’ve been doing it for a lifetime. Doing it for a living.
But some of us are accidental, or perhaps incidental, ass-holes. I generously put myself in that class. I had my noble moments, of course, but I have without a doubt, no shit, blown on through a few of those subjective assessments and gone well into the objective realm on occasion. I was a semi-professional for a time.
And invariably when I wake up now at 3am, one or more of these instances will be sitting on my chest waiting for me. A big old smug grin on its face. I shake my head, shudder noticeably and emit an involuntary, guttural groan in the darkness. “Uunhh.” Like I’ve been punched. A nocturnal Shame Shudder. Right out of the journals.
Well, I do not care to be stared down in the middle of the night by no Dickensian apparition, no Ghost of Senior Proms Past. No Spector of Christmas Parties Gone Awry. So consequently, I have been taking a fine-tooth comb to my past, examining all those moments in which I have embarrassed myself, all those myriad and sundry ways that I’ve invited scorn onto myself, picking them out like little bloody fleas and figuratively dropping them into a carefully prepared glass of bourbon. In a ceremonial sort of way.
It is a little like one might weed a garden or cull out one’s digital photo collection. My missteps, blunders and gaffes are not amusing me much anymore. Or rather, they cause me distress and not-a-little mortification. And those damn Shudders are plenty aggravating.
So, as I mentioned, I am going through my memory bank, searching for indiscretions, transgression, assorted missteps and peccadillos. I fully intend to round them up, confront them, and then run them through a hastily assembled kangaroo court. Which will find them guilty of disturbing my self-perception and interfering with my sleep cycle, put them before a firing squad and shoot the sons-a-bitches, one by one.
“I remember you,” I announce, as I light their last cigarettes and stroll down the line. “And I’m a better man for having known you. You played an integral role in the person I have become. Whomever that is. Thank you for your service."
I pause for effect.
“But our connections are hereby severed. We will all perhaps have a great laugh about this in the Afterlife. But for the rest of this one...au revoir, Pecker-heads. I got a Life to live.”