What if this low-grade melancholia that's been dogging me for the past year isn't a result of biology or psychology, but a product of memory? What if this emotional and mental torpor is a consequence of moving from the place that has been the seat of nearly all my memories with no component in my identity?
We are the sum of our experiences. For thirty-five years, my identity was tied to Canby, Oregon. I was tied to the people in the town, to the locations, to the history. Everywhere I walked, I saw something that reminded me of the past. Every person I met held a connection to my friends and family, even to myself.
Even a quick walk to the bank had the potential to flood me with memory. A typical stroll might go something like this: walking out the door and looking down the street reminds me of Kendra, who now works at Thriftway, and of the cast party at her house; at the 4th & Elm I am reminded of the time Paul and a couple girls took off with my little Datsun 310gx; walking past the Baldwin house (with all its cars), I recall Amber's strange entry in my high school class' ten-year reunion book; at the bank itself, I think of the summer after high school, visiting Denise and Debbie Johnson as they worked a car wash; the Dairy Queen reminds me of when Kris and I first moved back after college and a nice dinner out meant chicken strips at DQ; I glance across the street and see Sabino's office, and remember that I need to go connect a new computer to the network; and then the walk home is filled with more, similar memories. Maybe John Gingerich honks as he drives by, waves hello. Maybe I see a wreck at Whitman's Towing and think of my dead Geo Storm. Every walk, every day was filled with these memory triggers.
In Canby, my identity was tangible. I was all around me.
Three years ago, I seriously considered returning to church. Why? Not because I was drawn to religion, but because I felt that a part of me was there — I knew a part of me was there — and I wanted to recover this lost piece. The congregation at Zion Mennonite is a part of J.D. Roth, a part of Jeff Roth, a part of Nick Roth, just as it has been a part of our fathers, our grandfather, our great-grandfather. This is why our autumnal Monday Night Football gatherings are so important to me: they are one of my last solid connections to this group.
But what can I do? I don't live in Canby anymore.
I like it here in Oak Grove, I do. But I am not here. I am someplace else. I feel like a visitor. When I walk to the bank in this place, I am not surrounded by me, am not visited by memory. I experience the place, but in a different way. I'm building new memories, it's true, but it's not the same. When I walk down to the park, I don't recall friends or events: all I remember are the previous times I walked down to the park. If I walk up the hill, I might remember walking to Safeway with Joel last spring, but I probably won't. (Walking back from Fred Meyer, though, may now remind me of the hot day this July on which I carried my new wading pool the mile to our house.) Everything here is new. I have no names for anything, for the people or the places. I don't know what was here before. I don't know what is to come. I do not know this place. I do not know myself.
I am lost.
Without memories, I am lost.
So this is what I think is wrong: I am not crazy, and my biology is not out of balance. I am lost. I am now part of a place that is not a part of me.
How, then, can I maintain a sense of wholeness, a sense of identity? First, I need to maintain ties to my hometown: I need to eat lunch at its restaurants, shop at its stores, go see high school football games, and stay in touch with old friends. Second, I need to forge new memories in this place: meet new people (Iike our neighbors, like Lane), eat at the restaurants, shop at the stores, get out and make this place mine. I should research more area history. I should have friends to our house, and often. The more memories I construct here, the more comfortable I'll be here. A part of my identity will be tied to this house, to this property.
And though I may not feel wholly at home, I will no longer be lost.
On this day at foldedspace.org
2004 — Subtle Mostly, it's what is unsaid that is important.
2003 — Raspberry Swirl In which Tori Amos confuses me. In which the weekend is good but exhausting.