Play It, Sam
Nostalgia was originally a medical diagnosis, one so serious that it was a reason for medical discharge from military service. Soldiers would become so stuck on the fantastic world they left behind that they became unable to function in their present circumstances.
Not that I’m anywhere near that level of “stuck,” I have had a lot of time to think in the last week and a half, and I think that my efforts to not be anxious about the future have made me a little more prone to nostalgia. For the most part, it has been good, or at least harmless. Except for a few memories, all connected to the same person, that seem to be tripping me up. Someone impossible to see again.
It is no small cruelty that our senses have memories. It’s not just that my brain trips up, but I don’t have to try to “see” his face, or “hear” his voice, or “feel” his cheek on mine (not in a Cindy’s-gone-crazy way, but in a my-memories-are-that-vivid way). Instead, it’s like the memories trapped in my senses demand to be relived. He’s someone long gone, not to be seen again, and still, my brain cycles through all the things I never said, the things I would say if I had the chance. Impossible scenarios at best.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a romantic in that hold-out-for-the-long-shot sort of way. I am eternally like Rick Blaine, the protagonist in Casablanca, an endless battle of both intense cynicism and hope, understanding that I’ll never be Victor Laszlo, but still maintaining the absurd shred of hope that someday, I just might be.
I sincerely hope Cameron is the only one who hasn’t seen Casablanca (and that he sees it SOON), but for those who haven’t, Rick is the bar owner who loses his great love prior to the start of the film. Their song was As Time Goes By, and Rick forbade his musicians from playing it. Then one day, Ilsa, the great love, comes into the bar and insists the song gets played. Rick is quite displeased until he learns Ilsa has returned, and then things get muddier when you learn Ilsa isn’t alone: Victor is there. For the remainder of the film, Rick and Ilsa wrestle with the themes of love, loyalty, duty, honor… It’s just beautiful.
One night, when Rick has been drinking, he insists his pianist play the song over and over. It’s painful and soothing all at once. An exquisite tangle of fond memories, unrealized dreams, and present heartache, with bitter solitude to boot. “Play it, Sam,”* he says. At first, Sam resists, but Rick tells him again, and Sam plays. The memories demand to be relived no matter the inevitable heartache.
I don’t want you to think I’m spending my days crying in my soup or anything, but in the midst of the changes in my life lately, I do find myself feeling like Rick. These beautiful memories of someone long gone, the sadness over his absence, the things left unsaid, the faintest glimmer of hope; they’re all there, swirling around in my brain while I unpack suitcases of clothes and look for work. So I will listen to his song, a hundred, a thousand more times, until the memories stop demanding to be relived.
*edited to fix misquote