I would love to know why certain short stretches in a person’s youth loom larger and more vibrantly over the rest of their days compared to later periods that are more eventful, dramatic, or meaningful. Why are some fleeting moments, though taken for granted at the time, remembered later on as an improbable flower that never stops blooming, even though life at the time had felt like a desert, or even an endless dark hallway? Why do I keep forgetting how miserable I had been back then? More to the point, why have I missed that misery in the ensuing years as if it had been the sweetest sort of pain? Why do I feel so strongly about that particular time of my life but not others? And of all places for me to spend my vacation, why am I returning here, this town where they extract salt from a river flowing with tears instead of water?
Much of what you’re talking about can be reduced to a simple matter of timing. In childhood, we see the world in shades of exploding technicolor, hear the music in everything, including cacophony and silence itself, and feel emotions as overlapping extremes, sometimes complementary, sometimes conflicting, but always alive, ferociously alive. In adulthood we surrender to rationalism, and make virtues of disbelief and detachment. In other words, we settle into the serious business of waiting around to die, while simultaneously pushing against the very idea of death with an irrational sense of terror. (Hello, plastic surgery. Good to see you, Porshe 911 Turbo. Hey, Nineteen.) As for you, it’s not the memory of pain that’s drawing you back here, but the memory of feeling alive, of feeling all of your emotions, sometimes all at once, freely and fully. While you had indeed reached manhood at that point, the mix of sorrow and joy you felt was the last vestige of your childhood putting on a big show, striking sparks of defiance against the grey institutional walls of adulthood, before being forced to take a final bow. You returned to River of Tears not because it’s filled with tears of sorrow, but because at least half of them are tears of joy. You miss the chaotic emotional unity of your youth, which you had traded for the placid emotional disunity of adulthood. Anyways, of all people, you have a vested interest in the tears that fill the river that feeds the lake — have you forgotten that those tears are all yours, every last one of them?