the persistence of memory

My memory is notoriously spotty–I do not remember what I’ve said ten minutes ago (and sometimes–more often than I’d like to admit–directly after I’ve said it) and I do not remember events, people, places, names, or things. It makes for an exciting world in which everything is constantly new and interesting and absorbing. Every experience is a new experience! Every person is a new person to get to know and love! Every birthday is forgotten unless I’ve taken great pains to write it down in one or more spots and then set up email reminders and a singing telegram to remind me.

It is not unusual to forget things, to require an outside brain that is made of paper and is operated with a pen. Almost everyone needs lists and reminders and notes and strings around their fingers, and I am only a little embarrassed that I need to add things like “take vitamins” and “shower” to my to-do lists. But the blanks in my head are special kinds of blanks, holes, spaces. Usually they are just ordinary and unremarkable to me, but when I see other people accessing their long-term memories with ease, I am reminded that this kind of swiss-cheesiness is usually only found in the elderly or the not so bright.

So I try to hide the fact that my memory is so terrible and that it is possible that I need to have a chip installed, or a chimp following me around and taking dictation, or a collection of stories that I have carefully composed after interviewing a list of participants that I can pull out when a story of my life is required. I have very few funny stories to share, as a result of my disability. And I have taken, over the years, to just agreeing when people tell me something unless it immediately clashes with my sense of how the world ought to go. It is exciting that Ryan Reynolds is playingDeadpool , yes! I don’t remember who Ryan Reynolds is, but I will refresh my memory when I am alone. Oh, I love Belle and Sebastian. And when I get home I will find some songs on my iPod and remember what they sound like. Please do not call me on my bluff because that is just embarrassing, okay? Okay.

Of course, I remember some things with vivid clarity and in four dimensions with a soundtrack and closed-captioning, but no one believes me when I swear-to-god that I remember this, and clearly, and they are the ones who are wrong. Because usually, I am the one who looks confused when they tell me that I swore I loved Russian ballet and my favorite color is red and I had sushi for lunch. When I am right, there is no justice because I am so often wrong, and I might as well have been raised in a pod of some kind because my childhood is pretty much a blank, except for a handful of those so-vivid moments.

Lately I’ve been having a series of those vivid flashes, where I remember something: a moment, a person, a face, a phrase, a movement, a gesture, a smell or a sound, “We used to call our boss, at the kosher chicken place I used to work? She was very, very tall and very, very wide, and we used to call her The Great Pumpkin!” I told E, plucking at his sleeve, interrupting our conversation.

He didn’t understand why I was so excited, and I didn’t either, at the time. Why I get so excited, when it happens. It feels like I’ve been given a gift from my old and broken-down brain, that I have lucked into something precious and inviolate, and I want to share it immediately, regardless of its relevance. I used to sit on the floor of the basement, which was my room, which had red plaid carpet, and I would cut up my brother’s skate magazine and create enormous collages and they were very beautiful! I stood in the rain by the entrance to the Louvre and there were no banks anywhere and we were broke and I cried and cried and said I wanted to go home, and my feet were so cold and I was wearing a blue t-shirt dress that I had gotten from Victoria’s Secret that I really wish they still made. We stood in the street outside my friend’s house, and I was leaving in the morning, and he put his hands on my waist and I realized that I really wanted him to kiss me, but he didn’t, and he never did.

Maybe this presages a whole-hearted return to memory and remembering. Maybe my entire childhood will return in glorious, living color, and not just the parts that are so painful and sharp that I can’t repress them the way they need to be repressed. Maybe I will start to remember entire phone numbers and recipes and my list of responsibilities and someday people will believe me when I say that I remember something clearly, though I doubt it.

5 Replies to “the persistence of memory”

  1. It’s just as strange on the flip side, too. I have an incredibly remarkable memory and consequently know every lyric to every song I’ve ever heard, along with bits and pieces of trivia that nobody even cares about enough to think of in the first place, much less memorize and pull out at awkward times in front of people who don’t really care.

  2. I’m right there with you on this. While I don’t yet need to put “shower” on my list, there are plenty of everyday things that I can’t quite pull off without a list or mnemonic to keep me going.

    I drive D crazy interrupting him to tell him something. He cuts me off and, once he’s finished, always asks me to tell him what I was going to tell him…and I can never, ever remember.

    I’m interviewing for my current job tomorrow (long story) and I’m terrified of forgetting something important about my job history or how to put on my pants.

    Are you watching United States of Tara? She was talking about her memory last night and lack of memories…her reasons for forgetting are very different, but I get the blankness she talked about.

  3. Also, in addition to my amazing lack of short term memory…I almost always remember birthdays (even yours and DG’s). Facebook has ruined my one party trick. Now everyone knows everyone’s birthday.

  4. Ah, I have a very similar swiss-cheese mind. I thought I was the only one. I have some very, very vivid memories, but I mostly forget everything as soon as it’s over. I have spent hours re-reading past blog posts and essays, amazed that I wrote these things. I have no memory of them whatsoever.

  5. Same here. Appallingly bad memory. Vast quantities of systems and processes and social fudging all to help me remember that the colleague I work with has 2 children, one of whom is still at home and is called Barry. I live in terror of being at a work function and having to introduce one VIP to another and forgetting their names. I am constantly amazed at people who can write their memoirs. Where do they get the detail from? How can they remember all that stuff? It’s a complete mystery.

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