Picking up our Daydreams, holding the hands of our child selves

Twice this week I’ve watched scenes in film end with the image of an older adult making eye contact with the vision of their younger self.

One scene takes place in the corner of a bathroom floor. The other by a ballet bar in a dance studio otherwise emptied of people.

In one the dialogue is directed to that younger self, in the other it’s to their deceased parent. Powerfully captured is the release of emotion for that adult child brought on by returning to their younger self’s experiences.

The image it conjures for me initially is from a therapy session, specifically a closing session that would be followed by a close in a season of working with that individual.

She offered me this disclaimer before we got started to signal a break from our pattern of engaging. “Normally it is my role to track your perception and feelings towards an experience; but today my role is to help you track what is true.” The story before the story she called it, behind the years of in the way cobwebs and consequent translations.

My father was diagnosed with stage four cancer when I was four, coinciding with the first of multiple open heart surgeries for my younger sister. Those years of forming my childhood memories are told to me from the voices of adult observations of my childhood self. There is a blending of my own memories, my memories of stories told to me, and memories that aren’t mine at all. There is dispersing of information that is not haphazard, but neither is it cohesive or independently vocalized as recalled.

There is an evolution of a self-image being formed amidst growing up and hearing more memories. And there is a self, changing in response to a forming self-image.

My dad died two and a half years later when I was in first grade in our home under hospice care. My mom describes those years as the best in their marriage, linking them in shared and unarguable priorities. My memories are not of their marriage or even their time with me, but of who is around and where we’re congregated in any given story. My memories are contextual, and less chronological or bucketed.

My memories are of afternoons spent at my grandmother’s house watching the Evening Star. The sequel to Terms of Endearment, the plot centers on a family cornerstone and a weaving of family narrative from differently confident and full perspectives. The family figure head is the same mom who carried anxiety as a parent following the death of her husband during her daughter’s early life. The image of her crawling into her daughter’s bed is contrasted to her raising her three young grandchildren. There’s arguing, and resentment, and a thread of craving independent understanding that feels trusted. And there’s clear and concrete examples of embrace and return to patterns that want to change.

This image of family exists alongside my memories of those years, and what was on my mind and in my lexicon for family dynamics and grief and death. Exhuming those memories reveals many beliefs and reactions within myself, and most especially, evolving embrace and challenge to what has been recorded in our perceptions. I resonate with the unfurling of curiosity for your past and her wisdom.

I also resonate with the contradiction that returning to earlier wisdoms unleashes in our emotions.

The first film I watched is an HBO documentary released last year entitled The Tale. Based on a true story, the arc of the plot centers on the main character reacting to labels placed on her experience of childhood sexual abuse, and attempts to reenter her memories and gain new clarity on what to believe. Negotiating memories of one on one relationships, physical reactions, family conversations, conversations with her partner, conversations with those who knew her at the time, there is a disjointed order of approaching narrative reconstruction simultaneous to the reading of her eighth-grade self’s essay. In the closing scene there are no words exchanged, just two figures sitting on a bathroom floor.

The TV show This Is Us aired this week an episode focused on the character Beth. Centrally, the role of grief and absence and in the moment judgment calls is compared with reactions to how those memories are speaking to her now. Links are being decoded between internalized lessons that are being recreated and perhaps want to change. There is a longing for wholeness of self and wholeness of relationships so evident and so complex, with the presence of a younger self’s memory of those remembered events.

It is painful to join yourself to that younger perspective, and yet avoidance and an accumulation of years apart has created a boiling point, and also an entry point. An entry point first felt in one’s inner life, yet spanning out to include our relationships in the present. Present relationships opening and broadening in order to bring our younger selves along. There is a softening of any one perspective’s authority, and most evidently authority over what someone else remembers as impacting them still in the present.

You see in both depictions an unbroken eye contact, and a coming into closer physical proximity. You hear a confession of forgotten truths about yourself, some consciously distanced from, some unconsciously hidden from our awareness, and what is allowed is a questioning of whether we’ve labeled all the parts that are true for ourselves. What is allowed is space to go back and add in chances to change what we do with that information now. What is allowed is plasticity in our brains and in our nervous systems, and genuinely voluntary bursts of emotional and energetic release. Release like the kind where your body falls down after running until your muscles are too hot and too tentative to support your next stride. Release like laughing that gives way to crying. Release like a gaze you can hold with a child who hasn’t moved past their grief. Release from an understanding that grief hasn’t moved on, that it is still in our close physical and emotional proximity.

Release like the freedom to not feel held hostage to outcomes that you can’t change in the past, but that you do have time to build on and even away from. Sometimes strengthening what we remember gives us the confidence to interact with our memories as dialogue. Sometimes weakening our loyalty to what others remember introduces that confidence we haven’t felt in our own narrative agency. Sometimes what we label as emoting is more physiological, and even on the way to what is known and felt in our heads and hearts. Sometimes what we label as true isn’t solely true, and isn’t yet resolved.

For me, finding room to hear my memories of my childhood told as myself has required a separate physical space where those memories feel in close physical proximity. It has involved labeling my younger self as wise in her own right, and holding truths I may not have brought along with me. For me, things like daydreaming and play have returned to me first as memories, and continually as physical instincts and sensations. Physicality that once released puts me in close proximity to what it was that I felt, and haven’t grown to understand or integrate yet, as an adult and as every earlier age and perception.

Finding whatever it is that becomes that mirror for you is just one of those entry ways in its boiling. May narratives that we surround ourselves with bring the illumination that offers a chance to release some of the trauma, the confused links between how we feel now and what we’ve felt up until now.

And may laying down some of the trauma bring new glimpses of what brings us to dream freely.