20: What It Means When You Forget How Old You Are


A) I have a half-written story in my Google Drive about a woman who is a psychologist. A psychologist for people living their third lives. See, she is on her fifth life and feels exponentially superior because of it. Everyone knows, she knows, people on their third lives are erratic. They’ve had two chances to try to make things right and, psychically and subconsciously wounded from their inability to conquer either, spend most of their third opportunity frozen in inaction, afraid to choose the wrong thing. Afraid to choose anything at all.

B) There’s an understanding that you get wiser as you get older, and I have generally found this to be true. However, most people think that they and the people who agree with them are the ones getting wiser with age. Everyone else is just kind of making a newer version of the same old mistake, like a dirty sponge smearing a plate with the same peanut butter it just cleaned off.

C) The story is half-written and remains so. Maybe I’m on my third life.

D) The psychologist is insufferable. I picture her being British and saying things like, “This fig toast is insufferable.” She eats things like fig toast. And uses adjectives like “insufferable.” In marketing exercises, we develop personalities for brands as if they were people. This helps us get a better idea of how this person, this brand, would talk. That way we always write in a way that feels real to the brand. “What’s their tone of voice?” we ask. “The TOV? What’s our POV on the TOV?” I use the same part of my brain when I make characters. This psychologist, who looks like the goopiest Gwyneth Paltrow, is a brand that has plastic wrapped golden apples available for guests in a porcelain bowl that smells like hand sanitizer.

E) If I were to speak for my therapist, I’d say, “You’re not really here!”

F) That’s true. I haven’t been to a therapist in years.

G) Here’s how a therapist is different from a psychologist is different from a psychiatrist: A therapist helps people clarify their feelings so they can make decisions. Therapists can include social workers, psychoanalysts, marriage counselors, life coaches. A psychologist is trained to study human and mental processes and can diagnose disorders or mental health problems. A psychiatrist is a trained medical doctor that can diagnose and prescribe medications.

H) If I were to speak for my therapist, I’d say, “Do you think perhaps your attraction to and desire to believe in past lives is related to your reluctance to really blame anyone for their actions? That you want to love people who have hurt you so this is easier than reconciling that? Maybe it’s related to your belief that even the most heinous actions come from a gaping wound? From something unseen? Has the cycle of violence become an excuse? The mystery of life too overwhelming? Left you paralyzed? Unable to make a decision?”

I) If I were to speak for my therapist, I’d say, “Do you think perhaps you like the idea of past lives because it seems like the most rational explanation for how unfair things are? At least then, when people who are suffering in this life come back for another, they can have some peace, live like a rock star? Or a monk if they so choose? Regardless, they’ll have a choice and every opportunity to make it that they didn’t have in this life? Does that provide you solace? But it also terrifies you of dying because you’re doing pretty well in this life, so you think, ‘How much will I suffer in the next?’”

J) If I were to speak for my therapist, I’d say, “Do you think perhaps you should see a psychologist?”

K) If I were to speak for my therapist, I’d say, “Go with that.”

L) I once had a therapist who wouldn’t actually say anything during our sessions other than that: “Go with that.” I’d say, “I’ve been feeling really off lately and can’t do anything but sleep.” “Go with that.” “It takes me a really long time to get out of bed.” “Go with that.” “I am terrified of being taken advantage of financially and that’s what I feel like you’re doing.” “Go with that.” “I want to punch you in your pinched off, judge-y little face and cram that disgusting burning incense stick into your, I don’t know, your computer!” “Go with that.”

M) I passive aggressively, privately gave her a bad review on some doctor website that tracks such things at the very moment I was supposed to be at an appointment with her. She billed me $100 for the missed visit and not cancelling within 24 hours.

N) I paid it.

O) I know talking through feelings is valuable. I respect a good journal. I wish I had kept more of mine.

P) That’s not true. My sister and I were going through a bunch of old boxes in my grandparents’ basement a couple years ago and I found my fuzzy cheetah print journal from middle school. The basement smelled like water and the journal smelled like desperation.

Q) All that teenage longing. Of course! Of course it stretches you into something new.

R) In my grandparents’ house, while we laughed at old memories and the silly things we’d saved downstairs, my grandma sat upstairs. This was a few years ago. I was at an age where I forgot what age I was; because the number was insignificant, the years felt the same. My grandma was at an age where she forgot what age she was; because the number was significant, the years felt new and strange.

S) That day, the distance between us and her felt like just a few stair steps, one floor away. We didn’t know it was already miles. We didn’t know that gap was growing fast. Faster. Until she would be so far away we wouldn’t recognize her anymore. Her face a soft blur. Her mind unseen.

T) I hope I gave her a hug that day.

U) I probably didn’t. Or I did but didn’t do it with care, didn’t do it with the warmth she deserved: A blurred face waving her back home. Come home, Grandma. We love you so much here. I’ll leave the light on. Supper in the stove.

V) I was probably too caught up in my own head. Thinking about that journal.

W) If I were to write in my journal today, I’d write about my grandma’s fairy garden, her dollies and collection of toys, the disjointedness I feel looking at her looking at these and knowing she was once the country’s foremost expert in military tanks. That mind once carried everything about the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier. The Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Outfit. The oven temperature for the favorite meal of her husband. The best way to hold her crying daughter. The shoe size of the three-year-old grandbaby she loved in Ohio.

X) It’s all a mystery now. Maybe it’s always been a mystery. Maybe this is the mystery right here, right now.

Y) These are your options. You can only choose one.

Z) Go with that.


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