Years ago I read the Booker Prize winning novel, The English Patient, and was introduced that way to the author, Michael Ondaatje. I am now reading another of his books, Divisidero. His books are dense and lyrical, and the characters are so complex that I feel as if they are real people whom I knew in a previous location. His use of language is memorable. I was stopped in my tracks by the observation of one of the characters that “in our memories we are always observers.”
Since I read those words, I have been reviewing my memories and find that this observation is correct. Even in my dreams, my role is always watcher. Even though Jung says that in our dreams, we are every character, our role in the dreaming is to observe the interaction of these opposing forces. If you dream of a person being chased by a tiger, you are represented by both the person and the tiger. The key to understanding dreams is to figure out what qualities you share with both the tiger and the person. Then you can analyze what your unconscious mind is telling you.
I think back over my memories and I observe a panorama of activities in my life. I am watching my cousins rampaging through my childhood bedroom, tripping over and ruining my metal dollhouse. I observe my best friend Maria sliding down an ice-sculpted bobsled run in her neighbor’s backyard in Englewood, NJ, and I hear the shushing of the pine trees in the dark. I recall the auditorium of my elementary school and the children singing songs composed by the music teacher.
The one memory where I am both actor and observer is of the opening night of the Freeport High School variety show. The show was a big deal in our high school. It was a showcase for the talents of individuals in the senior class, and we had lots of talented people in my class of over 900. I didn’t have any particular performing arts skills, but I was one of the elite chosen to be Masters of Ceremonies. My good friend Patty Carbaugh was the other female MC, and I honestly do not remember the names of the two guys who performed with us. I think the only reason I was chosen for this role was because my good friend Robert Levitt was the director. Also, I had no shame!
We sang and danced between each act, and Patty and I changed into different prom dresses for each musical interlude. Each night of the weekend show the audience was filled to capacity. After the first couple of seconds each night, I lost all sense of stage fright and just had fun on stage with these friends.
In my memories of this event, I see mainly the other three MC’s doing a fine job of singing and dancing. “You people out there are here to see actual TV history. We welcome you to channel 64.” The theme obviously was that we were one of those tv shows like the Ed Sullivan Show with a variety of acts. And of course, we were the class of ’64.
What stands out for me, though, is I see myself scanning to audience each night looking for my parents. I am wondering whether they came to see me on stage on these important nights. I don’t remember seeing them in the audience, and I can still feel the hurt and disappointment I felt then when they did not show up.
To this day I am not sure that is an accurate memory. Maybe they did come to the show, but the story I tell myself about my childhood is that I was neglected. In our lives, the past is always being rewritten to better fit with our feelings about those times, and the more recent versions are the ones we believe to be true.