Where the Past Meets the Future

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I will be sixty-two in a week. I still feel like a kid. Still, I bound up and down the two flights to my apartment, though I took the subways’ elevator. I spit and sputter when complaining. Just as gaily, I light up when talking about rock music. 

On the face of it

My hair is grey, and my skin faded. I sport a potbelly, and my lower back hurts a lot. Kids on the street nod at me as if I am their grandmother, and I give them a lemony smile with crinkly eyes to look the part. Everybody’s happy.

Inside I still question

At times I feel like I am still fighting the age-old battles of the mentally ill. Schizophrenic to a point, bipolar to an end. 

I can’t deny it can be difficult to live with me. But in these last days before my birthday, I reassess the ways and means of how I function. I ask myself questions: Am I functional? Am I productive? Am I contributing?

All answers point to yes. Even if I weren’t any of these things, I was born, and I have a right to live. 

Every few years, the touchy subject comes up: Are you pulling your weight?

The Facts

  • I pay sales tax. 
  • I worked for thirty-one years (on the books all the way, in case you are wondering). 
  • I presently do my laundry. 
  • I shower. 
  • I wash the dishes.
  • I sweep the floor, 
  • I wipe down the bathroom and occasionally mop the floor. 
  • My rent and utilities get paid on time. 

Quotidian enough for you? I ask. At what point do the hardline workers and right-wingers admit that the mentally ill and marginal have a right to live?

I am tired of repeating Jefferson’s words, “The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

(RE)Assessing Ember Manos Belle

I reassess the way I function quite a bit. After years of percolating, incubating, and contemplating, I remembered the happiness of my high school years. I studied, slept, and listened to rock music.

My social life wasn’t fantastic, but I did have a few friends and could commiserate with my cohorts in a limited way. I tried my hand at writing. I collected stories—historic, romantic, sociological.

Nobody knew who I was, but I was happily oblivious to fame and fortune. The rhythms and tunes of rockers kept me satisfied.

My Past

Ten years later, I was coasting down the highway with a dark-skinned immigrant, married at that, and we were listening to Don Henley’s Boys of Summer. To this day, Boys of Summer reminds me of Kham. And then there was the story of buttons.

As a child in Guyana, Kham would grab scissors and cut off the fancy buttons on his sisters’ dresses and sweaters. He collected these pretty buttons. God knows why. I forgot all about Kham until I sat down to write tonight. Boys of Summer was playing on the net, and there, next to my laptop, was a little white button, mother-of-pearl, the threads clean cut off whatever piece of clothing from which it came. There Kham, I remembered you. I remember that we both needed something we weren’t getting from our wife or family.

It is thirty-one years since The Fall of the Berlin Wall the hospitalization that saved me. In the hospital, we were all nuts, all happy, all one big thriving family. We thrived on medicine, TLC from the workers, the comfort we got from each other, and the true isolation from normal society. And tonight, I returned to the days of high school, listening to rock, planning some kind of everyday activity like a job. I googled state peer specialist jobs and entered email addresses and passwords until my wrists were sore. At that point, I just said, well fuck it. 

Fuck it for now.

If you have messed up your life, all you have to do is start over in your head. Avoid the pitfalls you may have recognized in hindsight, then start over.

I did not worry about rent or money.

My life was stories, music, imagination. Why can’t I repeat that?

It worked.

For about an hour, I was just a teenager again. Rebellious in my innocent security. The rock music played. I thought of my afternoon at Starbucks on Pepton Square. My return to the hole of my room where nobody can bother me, and I have the freedom of imprisonment if there is such a thing. Freebird. When you are alone and unencumbered by the masses, your thoughts and imagination can fly.

And often, putting words together is all you need for sanctity. Memories swim before your eyes at this late age. Words and images gather in pools in the shadows on the ceiling. 

Listening to Eric Clapton’s Layla

I see I am the twelve-year-old with the transistor next to the pool in early summer, contemplating her toes baking in the sun.

Fifty years later, I imagine I am the old woman she became. I am listening to the same tune, considering a miniature mother-of-pearl button that speaks of a past that made me who I am.

I am not tired, and I am not afraid. I sit quietly and contemplate. It was the sun that did it. The sun and the moon and the stars. The cold winds of the last grey days of November 2021. John Lennon said it. “Life is what happens to you when you are busy doing other things.” I think I will incubate a little more, simmer a little more. When I come up for air, it is so pleasant to take a breath.

Remember the happy moments. 

I hear many professionals talk about leaving the past in the past, forgetting the past. 

The past is history.

But I say we are everything, at every moment what we have been. And tomorrow, we will be what we are today.

EMB

Memories and the past are rich treasures from which we can glean and create new paths, new parts of ourselves, new wisdom, insights, and coping mechanisms. The past is the key to the future.

Never forget

No, I will not forget. Life is learning. If we forget what we learned, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.

Who said that?

About the Author

Ember Manos Belle

Ember Manos Belle is a 'Systems Advocate' and Behavioral Health Therapist in the NYC area. Ember is the author of Climbing Towards November (2009), and Pause in the Western Rhythm (2019).
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