How do you remember a trip when you look back on it?
Obviously, it all hangs on whether you enjoyed the experience or not. You would expect to envision smiles, sparkles, and puppies if you had a good time, and monsters, shadows, and sprouts if you had a terrible time.
But, for the sake of this piece, let’s take a trip that you just didn’t enjoy that much. Nothing terrible happened, but you just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm. Now think back to it. Is it all fairies, sunshine, and flowers? Or darkness and horror accompanied with a shiver? My guess is it’s more than likely the former. That’s what happens to me, anyway.
See, the brain has this strange way of masking over the bad and instead presents you with a sugar-coated, colourfully wrapped idea rather than the reality.
Take my time in Madrid, for example. If you are a regular reader, you will know that I didn’t particularly have the wildest of times; my phone got stolen, I got homesick for the first time ever, and I just didn’t click with the city. It happens, there’s no shame in that.
However, my memory has taken on a life of its own, remembering Madrid in a fond light. It picks up snippets here and there – a narrow cobbled street bathed in sunlight, garlic prawns in La Latina, the tinkling of water on a lazy afternoon in Retiro Park – and presents these to me with a broad grin on its face singing, “I’ve… had… the time of my life” (throw in a few twirly dance moves from Dirty Dancing, too, and you have it down to a tee).
At the time I couldn’t wait to go home. Now I can’t wait to go back, thanks to the rose-tinted sheen my brain has comfortably wrapped my memory in.
Why Can’t I Remember?
Why can’t I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach when I realised my phone had been stolen? Why can’t I remember the feeling I had when I was wandering the streets wishing I was somewhere else? Why has my brain decided that these factors are not as important as the brief moments of pure joy I felt there? In fact, I’m not even sure they were moments of pure joy. I think they are just vague snapshots that my mind captured (or has made up, who knows). You know, more of a colour or word than an actual picture, which disappears if you look directly at it.
I know that the mind blocks out terrible things to protect us, but it’s not as if my time in Madrid was like something out of a horror film. It was just average. Nothing horrible happened, nothing that might leave a lasting effect.
I just didn’t really have a good time.
So why then, brain, have you fooled me into thinking about Madrid in a glowing light?
The Good vs The Bad
I guess it’s easier to remember the good than the bad. I mean, why would I want to remember and re-live the sinking feeling in my stomach or the wanting to be somewhere else? These aren’t nice feelings. Obviously, I’d much rather remember the good bits, however vague (or untrue) they may be.
Plus, things always seem worse at the time. You know, like that twilight zone between 2am and 5am when the fact that you forgot to wash the dishes leaves you gasping for air and covered in sweat. In the morning, though, you chuckle at yourself for being so dramatic; all previous anxieties placated by the welcoming light of day (or the fact that you can actually just go and wash the dishes).
I look back on my school years with fondness, too, when at the time I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. I suppose it makes life a lot easier, if a little less realistic. Time heals as they say, or, to put it better, time changes your memory completely (maybe that’s how it heals?).
I just worry that on my death-bed, with my life flashing before my eyes, I’ll find myself watching a slideshow of events that didn’t happen or that I didn’t enjoy, with my brain stroking my hair and quietly singing “Now I’ve… had… the time of my life.”