I cling tightly onto nostalgia, wrinkling the fabric of Time’s t-shirt between my fingers’ firm grasp as I try to pull the past closer to me.

I smile fondly at the recollection of me in Central Park, scribbling away the previous day’s events in my notebook so I wouldn’t forget a second. I remember the little pang of regret at the days that had gone by without committing them to paper. Days lost to the void, time’s sullen exhalation. With a sigh, weeks pass by.

In retrospect, I’ve rarely gone back to read those entries. Yet, I’d still fret if I lost the pages. The memory of writing them persists more strongly than the words I wrote. My ink is an oath I keep with myself. Even if the memory escapes me, it still exists somewhere out there in the material world. 

My memories are my life’s map. I unfold the origami of my twenty years carefully, each recollection of the past is the careful prying open of a bent corner. I fear I’ll lose the creases, undoing my path to the past. I want to keep the paper tightly folded, yet I can’t help but want to revisit the moments contained within its architecture. I’m compelled to double-check that they’re still there.

Call me a memory purist. I know each trip to the past taints it, obscuring minor details each time. It’s lost on me what is real and what has changed. Is it the t-shirt’s colour, the tone of voice, a slip up in wording? Maybe the never knowing is what haunts me. I’m despairingly aware that I can’t keep my memory pristine. Yet, even if the glass frames encasing my mind’s photographs are stained with my fingerprints, they are the only persisting touchpoints to my past that I have.

“I tend to agree with the theory that if you want to keep a memory pristine, you must not call upon it too often, for each time it is revisited, you alter it irrevocably, remembering not the original impression left by experience but the last time you recalled it. With tiny differences creeping in at each cycle, the exercise of our memory does not bring us closer to the past but draws us farther away.”
- Sally Mann, Hold Still: A Memoir With Photographs

Too often, I find myself locked in a bitter embrace with time. I hold on tightly to a feeble embrace with a shadow.

My mother and I are both enamoured with defending against its effects. Every family trip, there she is with her camera beckoning us to turn towards her. Each click is the turn of a key, latching onto that moment and storing it for safekeeping. 

I don’t keep the camera glued to me like she does, but I force the shutter of my eye to blink a little more slowly, its lens steely and wide open in the moments I wish to burn into my memory. Yet, I feel the life force of that moment slip away from me the more strongly I wish to prevent its flight.

I write, I take photos to seize a moment. To plant it, and grow it in my land. To hold onto a second like an everlasting ember, one I can take out of my pocket and lay in my hand. To look at that glowing flame a second, third … nth time. Each time, reigniting it with my breath’s gentle flight and the firing of neurons. I haven’t forgotten.

Is it so bad to forget? To lay a memory to rest?

Preserved fruits never taste as good as they do when they’re fresh and unscathed by time’s wrinkling hands. I know that my reincarnations of the past pale in comparison to the tender sweetness of the present. Perhaps to lay a memory to rest is to taste and forget it.

In moments of anxiety, I ruminate. I’m always excavating at already broken ground, truth-seeking in barren places. I realize my relationship to the past is the same. Turning over the same rock, hoping that I’ll reveal on the next flip, the past as perfectly as it was during the moment of experience. 

I’m a hoarder of undeveloped film. There are three disposable cameras that have been collecting dust in my drawer. You’d think that I don’t care for them after leaving them to bathe in stale air for so long. Yet, I panicked each time I thought I lost track of one of them.

I don’t know what exactly those negatives contain. All I remember is the blurriness of the scene, lining up my eye in the viewfinder, and click.

Red flowers blooming outside the restaurant in San Francisco, cherry blossoms in New York, my mother’s smiling face as we sat on the rocks by the sea. What I fear losing is not the photos lying hidden in the film, but the physical connection to my immaterial past. The safety net of knowing that I was living then, and to be able to live it again through the breadcrumbs a photo may reveal to me.

What I wish to affirm to myself is that it’s okay, maybe even necessary, to forget. That even if I can’t remember the exact moments of my past precisely, if at all, the moments of my past are still imprinted in my life’s paper. If I unfold it, I may not see the creases clearly, but these moments combine to create the origami of my life now.

I am 20 years old and 20 years folded.

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