Haunting memories–I think we all have them, but some stick with you more than others. Of all the crazy things I’ve done in my former life, the one that stands out the most had nothing to do with drugs or alcohol. Back in the early 90s when I was an avid Marathoner I worked in Manhattan, but lived in NJ. About two days before the New York City Marathon, I left work early to pick up my race number at the Sheraton Hotel on the upper West side. This is a very upscale area, and that evening there were loads of police, tourists, busboys, hotel staff, and marathoners picking up their numbers, in and outside the hotel. Since I lived in NJ, I was always very conscious of the bus schedule, so I was in a big rush to hop the subway back to the bus terminal. It was about 5:30 in late October so it was dark and chilly, and all I wanted to do was get home when suddenly I saw a large plastic bag lying on the sidewalk. I just assumed it was garbage, but when I looked closer, I was appalled to see that it was a thin black woman who was literally “wearing” the bag as her clothes. I remember standing over her, looking around trying to see if anyone else saw this, trying to decide if someone would take ownership of this discovery. I grappled with the thought of trying to find a cop to get this woman some help, but in the end I decided I was in too much of a rush to do this simple act of humanity. So, I just left her there, assuming that someone else would find her. I remember walking down the dark street towards the subway station, all the while feeling guilty and ashamed of myself. The whole time I was walking, I kept wanting to turn around and go back, because I knew I was wrong, but I didn’t. The whole time I rode home on the bus, I kept thinking that I should have gotten help, but it was too late by then. That’s the same mentality that prevents people from calling the cops when they see someone being attacked, or let someone lay in the road, thinking someone else will step up to the plate. I will never know what happened to this woman, but all these years later, this haunting memory still causes me shame.
We all have emotional baggage, some more than others. Most people do not even recognize why they react or live their life a certain way or if they do, they still let their past define them. Sometimes a long ago insecurity or hurt, which you thought buried, will resurface and the same emotion floods back. I don’t think people realize that hurtful and cruel comments, made as a joke, can have an impact on you years later. Even successful people, who seem to have the world by the tail, can be floored by an inadvertent nasty remark, which brings back the hurtful situation as if time had not even passed. It would be wonderful if we could have a “mind cleanser” to wipe away negative childhood memories, but I don’t think that technology exists. Although I am very self-aware, I still seem to be powerless to prevent conjuring up an old childhood hurt and running with it. Today, I was getting back in my car from the pharmacy, when I heard “barking” coming from the car parked next to me. It startled me because I thought there was a real “dog” in the car with the window open, but it wasn’t. What I saw were two young men, and the “barker” uttered something like an apology, which I didn’t hang around to hear. I’m not even really sure what that was all about but what I do know was an old incident that I thought dead and buried materialized, along with the intense hurt I originally felt. One day, when I was nineteen and very pregnant, I was walking when two A-holes came up to me and said, “Hi ugly.” Now, anybody else who didn’t have that basic insecurity brought on by my parents (being told I was not pretty, stupid, had a horse face, etc.), would not have been too bothered by that. But I remember the rage, shame and anger I felt, culminating with a severe crying jag. You see I believed them. Over the years I certainly realized that I am not “ugly” inside or out, am very smart, and even have felt pretty. But today, over forty years later, that same old emotion came flooding back as fresh as if it just happened. Now, I really do not know if that “barking” was supposed to imply that I was a “dog” , but of course I automatically assumed that it was. I kept telling myself to just “forget it”, yet it bothered me and actually affected my day. This is something I need to work on, not letting old baggage (negative voices) from my childhood impact me.