What is Nostalgia, Really?

(Originally published under the pseudonym “Torvi Tacuski”)

I woke up before 6:00a.m. today after another night of bad dreams; not nightmares where you wake up sweating, but just situations you never want to face, or that make you extremely uncomfortable, or that turn out to be some of your worst fears in everyday life. These types of bad dreams happen to me on a regular basis. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a good dream, or just a normal dream. Bad dreams are a part of my life, and have been for many years. Hmm. I should do a post on my dreams, too, seeing as how many of them are recurring, and have haunted me most of my life and I’ve never understood why, and some have even been revelatory.

But this post is not about dreams. It’s about that strange feeling of nostalgia that more often than not feels like something much more to me than the firing of my brain trying to remind me of my past. The bad dream that woke me this morning only led to the nostalgia.

Nostalgia, to me, is usually mild and fleeting. But every time I’m hit by it, I smile. A real smile. The kind you feel in the depths of your heart, that spreads warmth throughout your body. The kind you long for every single day of your life (even if you don’t realize it) because, for a small moment in time, you feel real unbridled, unconditional happiness – you feel alive.

I felt that this morning. And it brought me to tears. It took my breath away.

I was sitting on my bed with my laptop and the sun had just risen. I was becoming overwhelmed by everything going on in the world, and in my personal life, and I began to feel that heavy feeling of surrender, in my chest, on my shoulders, in my hands and arms and legs, everywhere. I didn’t care anymore if all of the things I’ve been most fearful of happening, happened right then. I didn’t care. A big part of me wanted it all to happen and just get it over with. My head felt so heavy that I could barely hold it up; my vision was…strange. Not blurred or dizzied, just different. It was almost as if a veil had lifted from my eyes and I was being shown the real world.

I was ready to go. I just wanted to leave this place.

Then I heard the birds chirping outside my window, the way birds always chirp very early in the morning, as if they wake up every single day without a care in the world, joyful, undeterred, unhindered and free. The nostalgia hit me right then, like an invisible wave crashing through that window.

You see, when I was a little girl, the happiest moments of my life were in Cleburne County, Arkansas at Greers Ferry Lake where my grannie and grampa lived. My moments there growing up have always been my most memorable.

I stared out the window from my bed, tears streaming down my face as I listened to the birds and envisioned my time at my grandparents’ house as if I were reliving it – I felt like I was there, and it paralyzed me. If I’d been standing it would’ve brought me to my knees.

And here is what I saw. What I always see.

I felt the sunlight on my face as I woke from the bed in the spare bedroom, the one that faced the backyard. I felt the smooth coolness of the yellow bed sheet beneath me; the little vintage glass bottles my grannie had set in the windowsill reflecting the sunlight; I could smell the Folgers coffee from the kitchen, and the bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy.

Time skipped ahead.

I was outside playing in the large field in front of the house; from the walnut tree I waved at my grannie and grampa sitting on the front porch smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, and they waved back at me.

Time skipped again.

The Dogwood tree. The grapevine. The vegetable garden. The watermelon patch. The armadillo coming through the weeds like a monster. The gravel driveway that snaked from the road to the house; the gravel popping beneath the tires of my grampa’s old blue truck – I could still smell the old leather seats inside.

I went to the creek behind my Uncle Darrell’s house directly across the street and I played in the water, caught crawdads and took off my shoes, and, as always, I could hear the birds singing joyously. I skipped down the dirt road; I picked blackberries from the bush and smelled honeysuckle thick in the air. I went to the little corner store, “Sugar Loaf One Stop”, and I bought a push-up vanilla ice cream and orange sherbet pop.

Back at my grandparent’s house, I sat underneath a cedar tree and felt the warm spring breeze on my shoulders; Dusty, the German shepherd I loved with my whole heart sat next to me on the grass. I was so happy. I wanted to go back right then. I never wanted the moment to end.

By this time, I couldn’t see or breathe through my tears. And I couldn’t stop crying. And I can’t remember the last time I felt such overwhelming joy and sadness at the same time.

It’s now 7:52a.m. and the sun is up and the birds have stopped singing. And the moment is gone…

So, what is nostalgia, really?

Is it just the brain reacting desperately to a person’s most cherished memories? Or is it something more? A sign of something to come, something we must prepare for? A preternatural comfort in our darkest moments? A reminder that life was not always as it is now? Or maybe…I don’t know, maybe we’re all already dead, and we’re wandering around the earth searching for something. We think we’re alive, and those memories, that deeply emotional nostalgia is trying to pull us into its light and away from the darkness that consumes us every day, the darkness that relentlessly lies to us by creating just enough about life that we enjoy, to keep us tethered to this hellish existence. I know you probably expect me to list my theories now in more detail, but I can’t do that here in a blog post. I can’t do it from Jessica to you, because it feels far too personal. The only way I can express these things, these theories, these beliefs that I trust with every bit of my exhausted soul, is through fiction. It can’t be me telling you certain things, but me disguised as a character. I don’t know why that is, but it’s the way it has always been. Maybe it’s because as someone else I can tell you everything without fear, without the need to water anything down for the sake of someone’s feelings or the judgemental fingers pointing at me. I don’t know.

So, are we already dead? I don’t know that either, but I inadvertently opened a door today that I don’t think this time will be so easy to shut.