I can’t remember anything.
When I go to write my monthly posts, I stare blankly from my café table in deep concentration, discomforting the folks around me, trying to remember…but nothing comes to mind.
That’s not wholly true, I suppose. I think of what I always think of: the dark, the black, the personal. These moments are so ingrained into me that they aren’t even memories anymore—just open wounds that I forget about until they get infected by my consciousness. I can actually feel portions of the pain I felt one, five, even ten years ago.
But I can’t seem to think of the opposites: the memories that contain so much joy that if I could think of them, I wouldn’t be able to keep from smiling, from laughing. I can imagine myself, the little bleach blonde boy that I was, smiling and giggling and running around—like a bird, resting on earth’s finger for an agitated second, then flying away just because I could—but I can’t explain why.
I pretend I’m happier now than I’ve ever been: living in a city I love, with a person I love, attending a school that I love—but when I remember that little blonde kiddo, even though I can hardly remember any stories about him, I remember that my happiness now isn’t what it used to be.
It’s different. It’s restrained, it’s cautious, it’s distrusting, it’s muted, it’s fleeting, and sometimes it’s even forgotten—but I can’t say that it’s worse.
As a boy, I elected happiness to be the dictator of my life, and tried to ward off all attempts at assassination by the other emotions. In fact, there couldn’t even be thoughts about attempts at assassination. An emotional massacre is really what I wanted, leaving happiness as the only feeling left standing. It’s what made the most sense at the time, but it doesn’t anymore.
I gave happiness a demotion because I don’t depend on it like I used to. Dark, black, wound-like memories come to the forefront of my mind when I write because I can confront them now in a way that I couldn’t then—because I need to confront them now in a way that I couldn’t then.
Sadness has changed from enemy to essential. I want to know everything about it, but it rarely gives me answers. When I feel it, I no longer try to ignore it, but instead I make a point of asking it, “Why are you here? What do you want?” Usually it just echoes:
“Why are you here?”
“What do you want?”
The answers to those questions were galaxies away twenty years ago, leaving me hopeless and confused whenever I wasn’t happy. But now the answers are more articulated, even if those answers change tomorrow.
Perhaps as I embrace these other feelings, I will never be as happy as I once was as a boy; perhaps I will never find myself “giggling” again; perhaps I will never run so fast that I feel like I’m soaring over the ground; and perhaps those all are blessings because, for now, walking feels just fine.
Michael Kelly (’14) graduated from Calvin College with a double major in psychology and writing. Shortly after graduating, he began his graduate level study of educational research, measurement, and evaluation at Boston College. When he is not studying learning and teaching, Michael learns and teaches through stories and writing—fiction and nonfiction, comedy and tragedy, and everything else in between.