Moments that are small and simple stick with me first and foremost. Like the way a hand feels upon a back during a goodbye or welcome hug from a person with sincerity. I find myself forgetting platitudes. I forget them intentionally. The words do, probably, have some wisdom or good intention to them. I don’t forget what they are, in terms of word arrangement, as much as I forget that those who say them have a reason for saying them.
“It is what it is” is one of my favorite examples of my least favorite sayings. It is an instant irritant. My dad says it to me all the time. My mom has a repurposed-wood, rustic-looking placard with the phrase painted on it – it hangs over the doorway, above an end table with Susan Lord hugging figurines. But the phrase has been said so many times that it no longer is what it was in the beginning. It starts to lack substance. The phrase has an etymology, springing out of some emotional well. All sayings do. It’s what we do as we all know – translate experience into words, however best we can. In my mom’s mind, the origin of “it is what it is,” might be the first time that she acknowledged some energy of hopelessness and helplessness. I forget that the phrase had utility at some point in time for her. I guess I wish I remembered that beneath her offering to me of “it is what it is,” are her most painful memories, but she’s never shared them with me. I guess that, on principle, I would like the origin of things to be considered; I don’t want myself or others to forget that everything is some derivative of suffering. But, I’ll admit, sometimes I wish I had the buoyancy to remember platitudes in place of negative emotion. Negative emotion had been my residence for a while. There was a period of time (years) when all I could recall were scenes saturated with dread, hopelessness, apathy, terror, helplessness, desperation, and the feeling of red-eyed coffee-and-nicotine mornings that dripped with anxiety and regret about things I’d said or done, or mostly said, how I’d said it, with what intonation, with or without lisp, with or without ulterior motives, and other neurotic but somehow important preoccupations. Those were distractions from the real problems, the unmentionables, and untouchables and off-the-tables, like body invasion and the fact that I couldn’t make eye contact, and the fact that shame nearly replaced the marrow in my bones. The underlying problem was a specter of a memory – a different kind of platitude, one with hazardous intentions that went, “just relax.” He whispered it into my ear in the same way that the priest did to him.
I chose to remember, instead, facts and theories at the end of college. One professor taught me to think about the concept of memories. She had an unmistakable sound to her stride, a high and soft voice that was often nurturing and wry at the same time. She occasionally referenced her interactions with her therapist, who explained to her that depression is associated with the past and anxiety is associated with the future. She didn’t seem too preoccupied with the past unless for narrative purposes. Otherwise, I imagined she was more situated in happenings of the future, plausible and maybe not-so-plausible happenings, like me. She maintained a breeziness throughout her nerves, and I looked up to her because of it.
Then I graduated. I had less structure. I sat on my porch every morning for my red-eyed coffee-and-nicotine ritual. I was still fluctuating between crisis, depression, and stability. I wasn’t thinking about the concept of memory, but the frustratingly abstract model of the future that I needed to figure out on my own.
But something happened in the middle of that stretch of shitty years, throughout those miserable, red-eyed coffee-and-nicotine mornings, that I continue to remember: A girl, about twelve years old, who passed by me every morning on her way to the charter school (backpack stuffed, but making her strong) without making eye contact — except for one day, the last day that I saw her. It reminded me of another time, as memories go, when someone offered to me the cliché that what we see, when we view another’s gaze, is the universe. I wouldn’t say they were wrong.