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A Memorial to Whom You Used to Be

The first month we tried to conceive I thought it had worked.  We went out to a restaurant one night, and I was positive that my abdomen felt bubbly.  Odd.  As if a tiny embryo was digging down deep in my uterus.  I had brought a Your Pregnancy Week by Week book along on the trip, and I consulted it as if this was a test and there was only one possible answer: twinges = pregnancy.

That cycle, of course, didn’t work.  The restaurant burned down a few years later, a month or two after we conceived the twins.

In both cases — myself and the restaurant — the original versions were gone.


I don’t know why we’re always surprised when our thoughts and feelings don’t return to their pre-situation state; as if we believe that our lives are like rain slickers that the downpours just roll off of, pooling on the ground so we can step aside.

I would say that we exit experiences changed, but that insinuates that there is an exit.

Maybe it’s more like a nautilus, starting with this small, dense core of self, that tiny original circle of our personality that existed before the nautilus started circling out in an ongoing loop.  The nautilus completes circle after circle, growing and expanding, getting farther away from that original space in the center.  We’re able to always look ahead as we grow while looking back as we wind our way around our old experiences.

There is no rhyme or reason to which way I’ll go: Sometimes I am excited as all get out for a new baby.  Other times I need to avoid it for self-preservation.  All I know is that the Melissa who exists today isn’t the Melissa who was sitting at that restaurant, a pregnancy book in her bag and her hand on her stomach, talking to someone who wasn’t there.


Image: Hitchster via Flickr


In the Magician King, you learn the backstory of how all the characters came together, moving between now and many years ago, until the two points in time meet.  We know the story before the main character, Quentin, knows the story, discovering it just pages before one of the characters sits down to tell him.

He says, on page 381, the woman “sitting next to him on his bed was like a magnificent memorial to the girl she used to be.”

Isn’t that a gorgeous thought?  That we’re all just memorials, walking memorials, to the people we used to be.

The woman (and I’m not naming her because it would be a spoiler for the first book) explains to Quentin on page 380, “I wanted to go back to before what happened, when I was still human.  But I couldn’t, and I couldn’t go forward either.  Then somehow in the underworld I realized for the first time, really understood, that I was never going back.  So I let go.  And that’s when it happened.”

She can’t go back to who she used to be; she can only move forward, carrying with her all the old versions of herself.

Just like everyone else, outside the pages of a book.


1 Bronwyn Joy { 07.01.15 at 7:51 am }

Absolutely gorgeous post. That is how it is – we collect as we move on, and hopefully (and usually) form a tidy and beautiful spiral rather than a big heap of mess.

2 Rachel { 07.01.15 at 8:07 am }

Beautiful post!! I feel like if I ran into the pre-infertility me, I wouldn’t even recognize her except for a few, tiny, threads. So much happens in the time between and we grow and change.

3 Charlie's Bird { 07.01.15 at 9:27 am }

What a beautiful post, I think the analogy of the nautilus shell is really appropriate. Thank you.

4 Peg { 07.01.15 at 9:35 am }

Wow, what a moving and timely piece for me. I have glimpses of the old me but am slowly accepting that I’m not the same person. You can’t undo things. Great great post.

5 Ana { 07.01.15 at 2:57 pm }

This is really thought-provoking. I love the idea of collecting as we go…and the shell metaphor is apt.

6 Sue { 07.01.15 at 8:06 pm }

You have no idea how apropos this post is for me this week, this very day.

I’ve come back to the land where I felt like I had been destroyed, to try to finish my dissertation. Came across old work, good work and it was like a punch in the gut — remember this oerdon? How excited and articulate and clear cans smart she was? Remember how she actually looked forward with something like hope and cibfudrnce, despite 2 years of treatments, despite other things. Look at her. You will never be her ever again, not as clear and articulste, not hopeful and excited… never will you get back to that place you were so happy to be.

It was crushing.

Last week I met with my mentor, this week with my advisor. Reassurance of process, of what still exists within me, a perspective on where I am, what I’m doing and how I can, basically, give myself a break.

So I can move forward.

The idea of a memorial is so apt, given not only that this is the place my babies died, but that important part of me did, too. I’ve list more than what I’ve said here, but there is a still, very, very small voice saying that who I am becoming can one day truly honor all that has been lost.

In memoriam.

7 Mali { 07.01.15 at 8:49 pm }

I’m not sure. I am still the same person, very much so, but I’ve grown, I’ve learned new skills and ways to deal with emotions, etc etc. So I’m not the same, but I don’t feel like a different person either. Simply an older, wiser, better version of myself.

I can certainly relate to your comment about self-preservation though. I never quite know when an ouch moment is going to hit, and when it will just glide by.

8 Cristy { 07.01.15 at 11:44 pm }

So many thoughts and emotions with this post. Many I need to sit with. But you’re absolutely right: we can never go back. Now it’s about finding ways to move forward that are just as magnificent.

9 torthuil { 07.02.15 at 12:47 am }

Love the image of the nautilus, of winding around and around an experience. I don’t feel like I am a memorial to who I used to be, however. I feel more like an evolved version. Not necessarily “better,” but altered and adapted by circumstance and choice. Hopefully for the better. Beautiful thought provoking post.

10 St. E { 07.02.15 at 4:33 am }

We are the same people, and yet so different that what we were before.

Great post.

11 deathstar { 07.02.15 at 1:37 pm }

This is why I continue chanting. To continually raise my life condition, to see the Buddhahood within myself. It is the only way I can truly become the best of who I can be, instead of continually missing the old me. And it’s free, unlike therapy. Once I faced failure that I could not undo – love you lots, infertiity! – I lost all the bright , shiny bits of myself. In other words, shit happened and I got depressed. I became that woman I never wanted to be around. I also started blogging and gave voice to that part of me that nobody wanted to hear. Except you guys. I read your stories and felt your pain and I didn’t feel so alone anymore. You held me up and listened to me. Now, despite life’s challenges, I honestly feel unbreakable. Every now and again I think about the old, shiny me. Yet this woman I am now is not to be underestimated. I’m kind of like burnished metal. Forged and battle scarred.

12 A. { 07.02.15 at 7:15 pm }

My husband will often say in his grief that he’ll “never be the same,” and in that he means part of him is broken or damaged. I think that ends up being true to a certain extent, like blind optimism. That has certainly died in all this. I have just thought in terms of the years that have passed, and the reality is that I would be a decidedly different person from 30 to 36 no matter how I had passed the time, so, no, I won’t ever be the same, and that’s okay. I will emerge from this series of challenges as someone new entirely because we are shaped by our experiences no matter how life unfolds. The nautilus is a great metaphor for that!

13 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.03.15 at 3:37 pm }

The image and your message are both disconcerting and consoling.

Lots of thinking about intense experiences. I’ve been mulling on this since I first read it.


14 Jess { 07.06.15 at 12:43 pm }

I love, love, love this post. The nautilus is perfect. I am not the same person I was, nearly six years ago, when we started out to make a baby and then found that that would be quite the undertaking. But that person is in there, and I can remember how I felt each time I thought that pregnancy was possible. I don’t think that person is gone. There are so many experiences like that, where you are forever changed afterward but you retain the knowledge of who you were before and how you had to adapt. I think in keeping it a nautilus, and knowing that you are a memorial to all your former selves, you are always learning from your past experiences and allowing yourself to grow. Like that nautilus shell spiraling out. God, I loved this post. Just beautiful.

15 Jess { 07.06.15 at 12:44 pm }

PS — Have you read the story “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros? This reminds me of that, in a way.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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