Out of the blue the other day I remembered a dinner party that I attended many years ago. It was an intimate and very strange gathering of strangers, who momentarily pretended to be friends.
The hostess was the director of a modelling agency, the co-host was her boyfriend, an ex-CIA agent. Perhaps he should not have divulged the fact that he had worked for such a secretive company, but he was well past caring about the consequences of his actions. He had kept silent for decades, and felt that the due date on his silence was up. He was in his eighties, and had discovered just how liberating being old and possibly close to death was, or at least that was his view.
The other guests were a small eclectic mix. A Hollywood film director, and his very long-suffering starlet wife. A priest whose main pursuit in life was reading old archaic texts. An art gallery owner, and his put-upon son, heir to the family dynasty. A nouveau hippie, who had just returned from Morocco and was in charge of cooking the dinner. And, of course, myself, dragged unwillingly to the party by my mother.
I felt as though I was caught in a lifelike game of Cluedo, or an Agatha Christie novel, without the murder in the dark bit to spice up the proceedings.
I was seated between the gallery owner, and the priest. They were both at least forty years older than me, and I really did not know what to say to either of them. I knew that if I said nothing it would not really matter at all. I had been to many dinner parties where all the guests were much older than me, and I knew that all that was expected of me was to be well-behaved, be quiet unless spoken to, when spoken to, to be polite, fake interest and listening, and generally pretend to be a smiling ghost. I followed my training.
The art gallery owner would occasionally turn to me and tell me an anecdote. He would chuckle, then turn away again. A short while later he would turn to me again, tell me the exact same anecdote, chuckle, and turn away again. He did this at least twenty times throughout the evening. I thought that it might be a private joke, that he was playing a bored dinner party guest game, indulging in trickster behaviour, until it became quite clear that he did not have a humorous bone in his body. He was doing it quite seriously, the chuckle was not a mirthful laugh, but an audible smirk of pleasure at the fact that his anecdote was rude. I wondered if he was aware of what he was doing. How could he not be. Yet he seemed oblivious. Not listening to himself at all.
Then I realised that no one was listening to themselves or anyone else. Everyone was talking, but not conversing. They were speaking the language of anecdotes and statements. Those anecdotes and statements were acknowledged by a returned anecdote or statement. It was odd.
I was used to people not listening to me, but I knew I was insignificant, either because of my age, or some other reason. I had held out the hope that one day I would finally be old enough, and significant enough, to be heard, but suddenly it dawned on me that perhaps such a thing did not exist, and that no one ever listens to anyone ever, not even themselves, no matter how old or how significant. It was a very surreal evening, so the realisations which I had that night were treated with a certain suspicion.
Once the dinner party was over, we all went our separate ways, and that was the last I ever saw of any of those people, except for my mother. It was also the last time I really thought about it, or the realisation the experience inspired.
I don’t spend much time voluntarily in Memoryville. Nostalgia for the once upon a time usually gives me nausea, or a case of regret reflux. But memories can’t be avoided, unless total amnesia is applied, and then retrieving memories becomes an obsession because you’ve forgotten why you wanted to forget in the first place. Things from the past often affect the present, and when a memory pops up and demands attention, it does so for a reason. In my case it usually has a message for me which is very relevant to the now.
So, what is the message of this memory. At first it was hard to decipher, because the memory was so dusty and disused, made of fragments. But slowly, with use, it began to reveal itself, the dust was wiped away, and the fragments were glued together. I saw translucent threads tying moments of the past with moments of the present. And I ended up wishing that the memory had stayed buried in the archives of my mind, because I don’t know what to do with the message, the information, it gave me.
Everybody’s talking, everyone wants to be heard, to be listened to, to be understood, acknowledged, but no one seems to hear, listen, understand or acknowledge. Not others or themselves. And that’s the part which saddens me the most. When I hear someone saying the same thing over and over again, I wonder how many times they will have to say it before they actually listen to what they are telling themselves. I know if I acknowledge their words, it will only satisfy them, if at all, for an infinitesimal instant, then they will start again, saying the same thing over and over into infinity and beyond, because it is not by others that they need to be heard, listened to, understood, and acknowledged, but by themselves. And for some reason people do not like to listen to themselves.
Which makes me wonder what I am telling myself to which I am not listening. There are a few things which I am deliberately ignoring, but I can hear them anyway. Fears nibbling at me, irritations working themselves into rants, and old urges urging. This is why I like writing these posts, because they help me to see what I am thinking, and hear the things I am saying to myself.
So, Have you had any memories pop up lately which have given you a message from the past for the present?