In my earliest memory I’m in the back of a car on the verge of sleeping, peering out the window at the green trees whipping past. I can feel a seatbelt around my waist, but it’s pulled slacked so I can lie down in a way that’s comfortable but useless. And that’s that.
But that memory is closer to a sensation than a picture. It’s all shadows and motion and pressure and green. Now, I’ve deduced from stories and photos that I’m in a white pickup truck. For some reason, I know I’m either heading towards or leaving Six Flags. I wouldn’t be surprised if my twin cousins were in the car and I’m positive that my father is driving. But all I know for sure is that I’m lying down looking at the wall of green trees whipping past to the rhythm of the speeding car.
What we remember is fascinating. I wonder how much of my eighteen years I actually remember, I mean without photos or videos or journal entries as a reminder—75 percent, 50 percent, maybe 10? When I searched online for a tested percentage, Google came up blank for a definitive answer but the number .001 percent appeared as a guess. And out of that tiny percentage, how well can we really remember things as they actually happened? Are they fuzzy or fleeting? Do they still have dialogue or color? If the sun is shining can you feel it? And how often do subsequent experiences influence those memories? There are days and weeks and months of my life that are just lost—completely gone, almost as if they were never lived in the first place.
My family tells me stories about my father and the childhood that I wish I could remember, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to pull these moments out of my head. Recently, I can’t even picture his face without looking at a photo, which, out of all the things I could possibly remember in this world, should take priority.
I realize a substantial part of my audience today has never been to a chapel talk, and maybe you’ve never even heard of one. Generally, some common topics include an existential crisis or worldly phenomena explained well and effectively in ten minutes, or advice for younger peers such as “remember that it’s the little, happy things that count” instead of the long nights of homework or high school tragedies.
Now, I’ve already introduced the first one in typical chapel talk fashion, so that leaves the latter. To me, “remembering the little things” raises some major issues. Not to say it’s wrong in its entirety, but the advice is too perfect to be realistic. In truth, I will remember the little things and I will remember things I want to forget and I will remember things that have no effect or use in my life and just sit in my head taking up space. Ultimately, memories will be lost and seared into our brains whether we like them or not, based on a subjective mix of impact and randomness. I mean, I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I saw a boy eat a replica of Mount Kilimanjaro completely made of raw lasagna in sixth grade or when Chewy thought the long mark accents in Latin 1 were called lawn marks up until about spring term. That is L-A-W-N. But it’s not like I chose to remember those little things and chose to forget the tough times, like how I spelled vasdeferens wrong on my Third Form pig practical or watched 2012, an end-of-the-world movie, in 2011 and couldn’t sleep for weeks. The truth is we have little control over what we remember without help, and it’s overwhelming to think about whether we’ll even remember the things we hold dear. While I do believe things we see as important take precedence, we only have so much space. It’s so easy to forget both days that were ordinary and days that were extraordinary. Friends that made me smile. Moments of uncontrollable laughter. The contours of my father’s face.
When I was younger, this unsettled me because it seemed like the memories I wanted the most danced away from my fingertips. Sometimes still, I lie in bed at night staring at the ceiling reaching into darkness to find some semblance of my dad, but the multitude of facts and stories and photos makes distinguishing between fallacy and truth difficult. Why do I know the car was white or a pickup? How did I know we were going to Six Flags? These are all facts I learned later that wove their way into my brain coloring a fading memory of green. Will I even remember today as it really was? Who know?.
When I sat down to write this talk, my entire Groton career came flashing through my head in a nostalgic silent movie. The first one that stuck began when the clock chimed 12 the night before my physics exam this fall. In exasperation and fatigue, my eyes wandered from my online textbook to my desktop, where an old Garage Band file peaked out from behind the window—bearing the elegant title “yeast.” With one single glance, physics was forgotten (figuratively of course, don’t worry Mr. Hall). “Gloria, want to help me finish my dubstep song, I never got the drop just right,” I asked my roommate who, if Mr. Spring is wondering, sat on the opposite couch passionately reading her U.S. textbook for fun.
Inspiration for the Garage Band had struck the previous summer while I was making cinnamon buns. The recipe called for yeast, an ingredient that I didn’t think my household would have on hand, but much to my delight, when searching through the fridge, I found not one but five packets of yeast. And thus, the song seemed to flow out of nowhere and went a little something like this, “Five packets of yeast in the fridge, five packets of yeast; take one out let it ferment, four packets of yeast in the fridge,” and so on. Under the shock of my own genius, I felt inclined to record my tune in an EDM track.
Three months later, I handed my work over to Glo, a mix and master legend, for fine tuning. “It needs bass,” she said when she heard it. And thus the creative juices flowed. Around 12:30 we unanimously decided the track needed a rap. But don’t fear, while you may know us as Montanna and Gloria, we are equally notorious as Lil Tan and Lil Cotan. Now I won’t recount the sixteen bars I dropped that night, but just know that by the time the clock struck 2, we had a minute and a half of Grammy material complete with two Latin references, and a full explanation of Fleishman’s active dry yeast.
This memory feels like it’s branded into my mind forever, but the reality is that despite the seeming clarity of recollection, I can’t remember the majority of the rap that we wrote, and the tune of the epic beat drop is elusive. Honestly, many of the words I just told you are inflated and hyperbolized. Gloria filled in some gaps, and some of it is just in there for the gigs. I mean we all know Gloria was not reading her U.S. textbook for fun. So, it brings up the question of what I’ll remember when I leave this campus which, however infuriating it may be, is an impossible question. While I’m pretty sure that’s a scary thought, I also know that I’ve made it to eighteen with the memories I have without any deep emotional distress, so I guess maybe I’m doing something right. But if I could just decide what memories to keep and which to discard, would I choose the right ones and delete the right ones. Should only the good ones be kept anyways? That seems pretty dangerous. So, I don’t know if I agree with only remembering the little happy times as much as I’d like to. There’s a certain naivete to the phrase that elides perfectly with an eighteen-year giving other teens and adults advice.
The ultimate, absolute truth is that Groton is really hard. It is hard emotionally, academically, and mentally, and I’ve had both some of my lowest and my highest points here, and I’ll remember both. Even the nights I’d love to forget, the feelings of doubt, pressure, and tears that I’d love to forget, deserve to be remembered. While coming to Groton was the best decision I could’ve made for myself, it isn’t perfect, but both the good and tough memories I’ve had here have taught me so much.
My first birthday here at Groton on November 11, 2015, I cried in the bathroom of a local Korean restaurant with my mom and grandparents waiting outside. I cried because I was tired, I was out of my comfort zone, and because it was my first birthday away from home— a place that I missed more than I thought I could. If you’ve met my mother you might’ve heard this story. It seems like she tells everyone. I used to be furious about that because that was a memory I’d tried to suppress, because who likes to remember being lonely. But mom, I forgive you for spilling my personal secrets, and I’ve come to terms with the idea that I had warranted homesickness. While that was perfectly normal, I don’t think I would’ve come to terms with it—had I successfully forgotten it. And now I’ll be leaving again soon and starting anew, and I’ll be homesick for two homes now and I hope I remember both with the same perpetual balance of joy and struggle that I experience day by day.
In my second earliest memory, my mother and I are crammed into my twin bed, and she’s holding me in a vice-like grip with my Afro puffs pressed against her chest. We’re reading a book about a hotel with a winding red carpet, and I can feel the warmth of her embrace. That’s not a memory I like to relive often, and for a time I hoped that one day I would forget it because it’s in the days after my father’s death. Even though I’ve been told that I didn’t understand death at age three, in the memory there’s a certain sadness felt deep in my core. And it frustrated me because I couldn’t remember my father at all—not his face, not his feel, not his voice—but I was so upset anyway. But that memory with its red winding carpet is also where I remember feeling the most love, closely seconded by the blurry green memory in the probably-white pickup truck. I can’t see my mother or my father but I know she’s there and he’s there and the cocoon of warmth that surrounds me is comforting. So, I guess in my mind something knows how to do something right when deciding what things to remember, in whatever perspective or clarity, out of the billions upon trillions of random seconds that I’ve seen pass by. And that’s that.