SOARES: Forgetting our stories

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It’s Sunday night when these thoughts begin to form, and they’re coming because I’m loafing in a common room that reeks of stale beer and microwaved chicken wings, sitting with two friends and a third, who snores on the couch while Beyoncé sings at the Superdome; and though my passed-out friend will soon wake up, bitter for having missed the halftime show, and though the empty beer bottles will (at some point, anyway) be tossed into a garbage bag and the sweet tang of wings will be masked with vanilla-flavored Febreeze — in other words, though the whole scene will be erased, so the only thing that remains is this sentence — at that moment, I was happy.

Writing this now is like running a rake through memory, hoping that something true will mangle itself in its teeth. It’s like trying, as I did when I was 8 or 9 and saw snow for the first time, to trap snowflakes in a jar, hoping they’ll still be frozen when you unscrew the lid back home in Brazil.

Another: It’s sophomore year and spring break, and when we walk back to Silliman, our footsteps echo off Slifka and Phil’s barbershop — we’re the only people in the universe. One night, instead of working on our papers, we order Chinese and watch bad horror movies.

And a third: It’s some time into our freshman spring, and for some reason we thought it a good idea to pour Emergen-C into shots of Majorska. The combination makes my jowls cringe, so I chase the shots with sake, straight from the bottle. I also wear aviators.

I tell these stories in order to remember. Memories are like homes with shoddy foundations, always threatening to come crashing down. I buttress mine with words, hammering them into the weakest studs, stuffing them into the cracks that open on the drywall. But I know that some years from now, the foundation will give way, the inner structure will collapse and all that will remain are the stories: skeletons of homes, built out of words.

For example: We go to Brooklyn for a friend’s birthday, and after dinner we buy cigars at a Rite Aid because we think it’d be cool to light them while looking out over the East River. The cold bites our fingertips. We sit by the Brooklyn Bridge and choke on the smoke.

What I want are truer words, words that recreate these moments as I felt them in my bones. Instead you get these paragraphs, the flavors and textures and feelings reduced to meandering sentences and mixed metaphors. It’s like trying to send Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” through the mail, folding it over and over again so it’s tiny enough to fit into a No. 10 envelope and flat enough to glide under a door.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Joan Didion said that. I think she was a little off. We tell ourselves stories not to live but to hold on to life, to recreate for ourselves the moments we hold dear. The rub is in the fact that we will forget, that memories have a shelf life only slightly longer than the things they recall, and that when they pass, they’ll be survived by stories that are hollow shells of experience. One day, we will tell people we went to Yale, and that sentence will be little more than a statement of fact.

So to hell with stories. I want the now. I’m four months short of four years at Yale, and I want to drown in their every instant. It’s not about doing more — it’s about doing things fully, about being wholly present. I want to feel the Toad’s dance floor pulse under my feet. I want to blow off my phone and become so invested in conversations that I can hear my friends’ thoughts. I want to stuff my pockets with the smell of coffee that lingers in my apartment in the mornings, the combination of used Starbucks cups and the drip brewing at Woodlands downstairs. I want to savor, to relish, to bask — and then, for as long as I can, I want to remember.

Teo Soares is a senior in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at teo.soares@yale.edu . 

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