Friday 19 March 2021

Thought Picnic: The scary past Facebook evokes

A past too fast

There is something I learnt a few days ago that some reflex in me immediately controlled, a brush with the past that brought back a flood of memories, but I narrowly avoided re-situating myself in that context. Obviously, I am responsible for the things that I have done especially in my childhood, even if bad, naïve, nasty, or worse, it is important I do not use that to excuse old behaviours.

As I have written before, Facebook is a psychosocial complex that unites us unwittingly with the past in so many unintended ways that could as well be destructive if we are not careful. Social media sates curiosity in ways that we would not even invite and pay a private eye to investigate on our behalf.

Schooled from the beyond

When I joined Facebook at the end of December 2009, and I had avoided doing it for years, I immediately sought out groups from my primary schools and secondary school. One invitation from Chris, my partner in the years around that time, I did not respond to until well into 2010, he passed on in November 2009.

Soon, I realised I needed to compartmentalise things, I was not going to befriend every old friend that I had not seen for over 30 years, the intervening time a complete blank to me and the person I reconnect with different in character, personality, or outlook from me. The temptation to resume friendships as if they had never broken off fait accompli is a weakness in our psyche and dangerous if one is suddenly too trusting.

Of times than person

Even before Facebook, there were friends made in different schools that I actively avoided because they represented a time in my own life and story I did not want to relive. They were an emotional burden that depicted vulnerability and failings not of themselves, even if they were not successful, but critically of myself, because I knew things about me that I could not face, I want to think that the past has been buried, out of sight and out of the mind, far from recall.

Then an old school teacher’s picture appeared on one of those pages; when we parted ways in 1975, I must have thought, that was it. There she was at 93 and I back in Primary 5. The times when I did not submit any homework which I hated and she put me in front of the class to be shamed; a version of being put in stocks and pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables in a public place. They did not ask questions about why a child's attitude took a turn then.

False claims so lame

I hated writing then, and I was to write letters to a number of teachers then, which I eventually never did. Meanings of words if did not know that I used painting pictures of family life at home that was hardly reflective of the truth. I was like the class Matilda, smart, different, inquisitive, resourceful, awkward, and sadly suffocating too. I found a book in one of the school cupboards and started teaching myself, French.

There was one incident at home that I probably would never have told my parents if my mother nursing my baby brother in the next room had not heard me. I was recovering from illness and asleep in my bed when a lady came into my room and sat on me. I recognised her because I said, ‘I will tell your husband.’ My mother called out from her room, asking who it was, but my memory went blank, there began a life of African-Initiated Church rituals that lasted through adolescence until I left home.

Child psychology misadventure

My childhood troubles did not begin then, years before, I had lost my sexual innocence to the trusted, my father’s strict disciplinarian ways with his youngest female sibling and female cousin made him distant and unapproachable, the psychological effect was to find expression elsewhere in the reckless and the imaginative. The apparent idyllic home life was anything but, the past harbours things that still make me shiver and I have not found the form of words to express.

Indeed, in a picture is a connection to a past that might not make you smile, that is a well of negative nostalgia, no longing and much loathing. Not so much of the person seen, but of the time it captured for which memories long forgotten take to life again like old dead seeds put in soil and watered. And yes, I do now remember who the lady was, crazy as the mind works.

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