By De Elizabeth
“X months forward, X months back.”
It sounds like a math equation, but it was really a mind game my best friend and I used to play in high school in order to gauge the passing of time. The summer after graduation, we measured the weight of the weeks ahead, counting down until I moved into my college dorm room, away from our hometown, away from the memories that had filled every free second of that final year of childhood. “Two months forward until August,” we concluded. “But two months ago was April. Wow, that feels forever ago. We have so much time left.”
In reality, it wasn’t that much time at all — especially as the summer was filled with a slew of new memories, a fresh collection of inside jokes, and countless sleepovers that felt, at the time, never-ending. But that last day came, as last days often do. We exchanged handwritten letters and cried in the hammock in my backyard, saying things like, “Nothing will ever be the same again. Nothing will ever be like this.” It sounds melodramatic, but it was true; nothing ever was like that again.
Today, as a grown woman with a family and a job and all of the adult responsibilities imaginable, I still find myself measuring time with the forward-back game. Only, time has gotten much harder to define; entire seasons sometimes feel like just one week, a year flies by in a blink. When you’re little, September through June can feel like an eternity, a thousand lives lived within one 180-day schoolyear. It feels a lot different now.
It doesn’t help that we’re frequently pulled in a variety of directions; our phones are constantly showing us memories from one year ago, two years ago, ten years ago (how has a decade gone by?!). Grocery stores start selling Halloween candy in July; Christmas decorations hit the shelves before anyone has had a chance to say “trick-or-treat.” We’re constantly looking forward or back, but never here.
And when you have children, time begins to pass in a different way. You have a tangible reminder of time always right there in front of you: it’s the way your baby is not really a baby anymore, but starting to look more and more like a little kid, the way you slowly begin to forget the tiniest details of the phases that came before. Or maybe you don’t forget, maybe you never imprinted them to begin with; maybe you didn’t allow yourself to be “here” enough, while “here” was truly a thing.
Nostalgia is undoubtedly the human condition. It’s why our parents listened to “oldies” radio stations, why TV reboots hook us before ever watching an episode, why we scroll endlessly in our camera rolls looking for the perfect #TBT picture. It’s why people keep memory books, hang pictures on the wall, talk about times that have already passed, that are already gone. But sometimes I worry that I am incapable of recognizing anything until it’s behind me, that hindsight isn’t just 20/20, but actually the only lens through which I ever see the world.
A lifetime has passed since that summer day in the hammock with my best friend. I know we can’t ever go back, and forward is always calling, but I wish that I could find a better way to simply hold on to the “now.” Deep down, I suspect I’m always going to get it slightly wrong.