Things Left Behind
Memory is random. You’ll be sitting somewhere, not actually thinking about anything (I liken it to my brain just sounding a dial tone, a metaphor that will make no sense to anyone born after 2000), and all of a sudden, you end up thinking about a person you knew more than a decade ago.
That’s what happened to me last night, anyway. In the waning days of the 1990s, I worked as a support tech for Earthlink dial-up (more stuff that makes no sense to anyone under 13 years old). I worked with a lot of dudes my age who were a lot like me — young tech geeks scrambling to find jobs after the dot-com bubble burst. (Really, if you were born after 2000, this blog entry makes no sense. It’ll keep doing that, so read on if you like, but get an old person to define terms for you.) So most of the people there were people I wanted to hang out with, and as we were in our early 20s, we hung out at the bar across the street after most shifts.
One of my pals from those days was a guy named Dan. Dan was Austrian, but his passport was from Switzerland. He wasn’t an American citizen, but he was in the country with his dad, who was there on some sort of corporate visa. I like to imagine that Dan’s father was a Jason-Bourne-like spy, and they were on the run from some clandestine agency, but the truth was probably more mundane — Dan’s dad had a desk job, and Dan had to get a job when he became old enough to work. Therefore, he worked with us at Earthlink.
Dan and I always got along well, especially because I was the only other person in the office who could speak German. I had fun browbeating Dan into admitting that he owned both of Falco’s albums, and Dan had fun giving me shit for drinking inferior American beer. Once, we were talking about TV, and I mentioned that I was way into Twin Peaks (I was going through a David Lynch phase at the time). He’d never heard of it, so I lent him my box set on VHS (kids, ask your parents).
Again, this was back in the late 90s, so it was kind of a rare thing to have all of the Twin Peaks episodes in a form you could re-watch. You either had to have recorded them when they were on (I didn’t see them then), or hunt high and low for this one-run, limited-production box set that the production company had yanked off the shelves when DVD started looking like a reality. It would take them several more years to release the DVD, mind you, so for a while, these rare VHS collections were the only way you could watch the show. I think I found mine on eBay back then for some price I was probably pretty stupid to pay (especially now that you can just watch the entire series run on Netflix).
So I lent Dan the box set, thinking nothing of it. Shortly after, I got my first real job out of college and quit Earthlink when working two jobs full-time became too much stress. I lost contact with Dan, and several months after that, realized he still had the box set I’d lent him. I wasn’t upset — it wasn’t like I hadn’t watched each episode enough times to commit it to memory — but I wondered for a while what he thought of that series. I was interested to hear his take on it, to discuss the episodes with someone from a different cultural background to see if his perception was different to mine and my friends’.
I hadn’t thought about Dan or the Vanishing Box Set in years until last night. I wonder if the tapes are still out there, sitting in some forgotten box somewhere in Europe? I wonder why my brain still holds on to that tiny incident, yet sometimes I can’t remember my father’s birthday (a relatively small piece of information, that)?
The thing about writers, though, is the people and experiences we’ve had in our past generally work themselves into what we write in some form or another. It might not be the person in your memory, or the actual incident that happened to you, but flavors of that past will show up in writing and remind you of who you used to be. And to me, that’s a pretty cool thing.
What’s the most random, vivid memory that’s presented itself to you lately? Have memories informed the way you write a story, either consciously or unconsciously?