Mental Tattoo

I’ve never been one for easily memorizing poems, songs, or movie lines, but, oh, how I envy those who can! No, even if I try and try, eventually the wit or lyric will slip out of my mind, replaced by something equally as unimportant.

Save for one, seemingly small, work of literature.

I read Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem in college; I think I was a junior. Even as I read it, I knew with inexplicable prescience that I should pay attention, for soon these well-crafted vignettes would mean more than I could have imagined at the time. And as I rightly anticipated, “Goodbye to All That,” has popped up in my mind with growing frequency. Tonight I pulled out my heavily-annotated copy of the book to see if my memory served me correctly. It did.

I share with you here the parts that have haunted me for almost a decade. If you’ve not read the book, please buy it here, or at the very least, read this.

…but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before… Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach… I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of them would count… That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and ever procrastination, every word, all of it.

Somehow, at 20, I knew what she meant in her description of being both 20 and 28. I felt and owned her words and mourned her mistakes as if they were my own, and, in turn, in my own way, they did become my own. Goodbye to all that, indeed. Hello, next decade.


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