The past is a vast attic -- the dusty toy, the old album, the forgotten fury, must mixing with desire.

Some experiences glow all the brighter for being gone. Youth is like that.

Years take away the gawky pain, leave only the sweet taste of first times.

Other moments are so bitter that no number of years will dull the sorrow. "If you want to keep the beer REAL cold," moans a country and western song, "put it right next to my ex-wife's heart."

But we are more faithful than we know to the things we leave behind, to the spent emotions, the discounted dreams, to the fears we've fought and the lovers we've left. Here then are a few tales of former times, ornaments from the attic, shadows of the future.

As a smart, attractive college junior, majoring in biology, Nancy appeared to be a perfectly normal roommate in our suite of four. She went to dinner with us, laughed at our jokes, owned a toaster oven, brought kosher salami back from trips to Shaker Heights and baked great banana bread.

It was the fish that made her a little offbeat.

Nancy wanted to be an ichthyologist. She had color pictures of fish on the walls of her bedroom, and she could happily tell you the Latin name, environment and eating and sleeping habits of each of these fish. She took courses on fish, she did research projects on fish and she regularly went scuba diving -- the better to see these pisces.

But her prized possession, her triumph -- only later to be a heart-rending disaster -- was the fish tank in the living room of our suite. In this tank she painstakingly assembled some of the most exotic fish -- tank size, of course -- she could find, ordered (with help from biology professors) from tropical South American waters.

During the first few days that Nancy brought a new fish home, we would find her calmly seated in a chair, reading a book, next to the fish tank in a far corner of our living room. "I'm trying to get the fish used to people," she would say, and go back to reading.

Then one Saturday soon after our fish family was complete, crisis struck. The plecostomus -- an ugly brownish algae eater that sucks its way along the sides of fish tanks -- was maliciously and without provocation attacking another fish. For hours that evening, Nancy watched helplessly as the plecostomus chased the other fish around the tank, flailing the victim with his tail. Nancy tried to distract the plecostomus by feeding him -- but to no avail. Within a day or so, the victimized fish was found dead, probably of exhaustion, and Nancy sadly flushed him down the toilet.

It was downhill from then on. Two more fish died -- failure to adjust, Nancy reported.Then came the crowning blow: One of the most colorful tropical fish in the tank seemed to be having some kind of problem navigating the tank waters. Depressed, Nancy came and gave us the word. "My fish is going blind," she informed us soberly and went back to the living room to watch the tank. This was just too much for another roommate, Sharon, and me to bear. We went into Sharon's bedroom, closed the door, fell onto the bed and convulsed into hysterical laughter. A few days later, that fish died, and Nancy soon gave up the tank.

She did not, however, give up the career goal. She is doing graduate work in Biology now. A couple of months ago I got a postcard from St. Croix, where she has been doing research on fish for several months. She signed the postcard, "Love and Fishes, Nancy."