Searching the Ripples of my Mind for Childhood Memories
“Do you remember the time in school when…”
The place is Razi Elementary School in Iran. The time is in the early 1980s. The question is posed by a long lost childhood friend who found me by sheer accident on an otherwise ordinary Monday and has since turned my life inside out with indescribable joy and bliss. To my own disappointment, I did not have a clear memory of her and was sure she has the wrong person. Assured by the facts, she came back exploding with joy and stories and no sooner had I read the names of our mutual friends, names dearest to my heart, that tears were streaming down my cheeks. What unexpected happiness to find yourself instantly richer when the dearest childhood friendships resurface after 26 years of separation?
What is 26 years between childhood friends anyway? It turns out, to our unilateral deep sense of undeterred loyalty, despite the silence of over two decades, it is not much of anything at all. The foundation of our friendship is intact and time, with all its advantage, has not managed to efface our sweet bond together.
The week has been a whirlwind for someone who already spends more than her fair share of time reminiscing. Naturally, it is best to live in the present, moment to moment, rather than delve into the past or ponder about the future. Nonetheless, logic usually fails to persuade me on this particular topic, for I cherish and torment myself with my past, but I do love traveling down memory lane — and on this particular week, I have overindulged in it like a starved girl being served a feast and not filling up after heaps and heaps of delectable food.
It has been fulfilling beyond words for me to travel back to our childhood. The difference is, this time I am not racking my brain in vain trying to patch pieces of broken bits into a recognizable pattern. This time, I have my darling friends, who were witness to those memories and those days. It is impossible to overestimate the joy of having the precisely right person to relive the memory of those days with.
Memory is a funny thing. Not the laughing out loud funny kind, more the strange, odd, peculiar, curious kind. No two people usually remember the same details of an event decades down the road. We remember selectively and what detail we do remember, we nurse and nurture and repeat until it becomes prominent in our mind. Over time, it surmounts the other details and it becomes the whole of what we remember from that event.
That must be the reason I am shocked to hear other details which surprisingly help me understand the big picture. Essentially, what you remember from events is your own version. Through this reunion, I am able to hear other versions of the same event lived through different eyes and remembered by a different heart.
The Elements of our Unbreakable Childhood Friendships
When I left Iran, I tried quite hard to forget the awful things we had to endure and in the process, I sadly managed to forget some people, places and things dearest to me, a feeling which leaves me with emptiness and regret in hindsight.
You cannot teach dichotomy to your memory. I am learning you cannot selectively pick and choose what stays and what goes in the memory bank. Memory isn’t a Word document in progress. It is a messy and hairy, fluffy and thorny, expanding and shrinking mass. It does not follow instructions well, it can arouse our every emotion at a whim and it can all be profoundly triggered by the right stimuli. And there is perhaps few forces more qualified for the job than our childhood friends.
It all begs the question: What makes these particular childhood friendships undeterred and unbreakable? We know that not all childhood friendships carry this strong bond. What is so special about the ones that do? It is perhaps not possible to fully understand the unsatisfied curiosity and emotional bond between me and my newly found friends but here are my take on the 3 Elements unique to our situation:
1 — The Iran Factor
Every one’s childhood is special but events during one’s childhood can directly impact the memories and recollection later in life. A happy and uneventful childhood is beautiful; I used to wish for one. Then one day I decided to fully embrace my own. A childhood impacted by the revolution, the regime, the horrific changes to our daily life from work to school to play. The adjustments that we as 7-year old girls had to make to this unwelcome regime and even more unwelcome rules of existence are unforgettable in our minds. Our friendship to one another was, without exaggeration, one of the best escapes from our circumstance. There is no doubt that we owe those strong bonds formed in the innocence and curiosity of our minds to our very circumstances.
Dilapidated classrooms filled with posters of a revolution we didn’t understand and teachings we could hardly believe. But formidable as these days were, we formed memories around them. Happy ones. We found outlet in laughing at our troubles and with each other. Of all my memories, the laughter is the undeniably clearest fragment.
2 — The Poorly timed Separation Factor:
Being separated by circumstance rather than choice in life leaves things unfinished and unresolved. Closures are not a myth; our brains need to process a beginning and an end to a friendship in order to fully move on and when that bond is torn prematurely, it ironically can grow stronger over time.
We weren’t quite done with our friendship. The sweet bond we had made was broken at its finest stage and at our most tender age. It has been impossible to replace the friendship, not because good friends with good intentions have not come along. It is simply because of the desperate circumstances of each of us leaving our poor country, most of us without saying goodbye. This intense desire to reunite and make up for lost time stems from that separation factor. We have all, it turns out, held on to the dim memory of the untimely loss of friendship and in the process have turned it into a lasting one.
3 — The Eccentricity of the Persian language Factor:
I desperately feel for anyone who wants to learn Farsi as a second language. Beyond little use, it must be agonizing to learn it fluently. All the structure and knowledge of vocabulary and grammar will not enable you to experience the connection the way a native does, and this is not to imply that Farsi is superior or we make it proudly difficult. Far from it! It is a language filled with more follies and absurdities than one can imagine. It is forever a trying time for me to translate a term of endearment or the meaning behind an emotional phrase to my husband. It is also precisely this quality to the language which formed our childhood bond.
Our friendship happened in Farsi. When I speak it, I instantly feel loved and connected. When I relive the memory of certain words and phrases as I hear it spoken in my friends’ voices, from a time when our vocabulary was so limited as children and each word and phrase carried so much weight, I have no doubt how much the language and all its eccentricities contributed to our special bond.
Preparing an Old Friendship to Boldly Flourish into a Lasting One
A reunion with our childhood friends is at once self-serving and compassionate. We see people who remember us the way we were and it is our most natural tendency to get to know what we were each like as children. In this process, they are our enablers. In return, we remember them the way they were and fill in the blanks of their memories beautifully. Separately we remember different patches but together we can recreate the tapestry of our childhood and treasure it anew.
The best part about finding our childhood friends with whom we have such a bond is how one can skip right to being the best of friends. The trust is unshakable; it was formed at our most innocent stage in life. The distance and the miles are irrelevant. With 26 years of separation, we may naturally have nothing in common as the women we have become but that matters not one bit.
A new friendship and new beginnings are inevitable. It is obvious by the fact that each of us desires a reunion with a sense of urgency. I cannot begin to know what to expect besides much conversation, laughter and tears. I am open for anything, so long as I can have these friends back in my life.
One thing is certain to all of us, these friendships were built to last.
“If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.”
Tom Stoppard, British playwright.
What would you do if you found your childhood friends? Would you make room for them in your new life? What do you think is our obsession with knowing what we were like as children and holding on to some things without any intent to let go?