Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Lesson Late

What is up with my memory? 

An old college friend emailed me out of the blue last week after seeing my profile on MySpace.  "Hey!  How are you?  Remember when you did blahdiblah?  And I did blahdiblah?  And then you threw up?"

But no, I didn't remember any of those things!  I mean, I was delighted to hear from this person, and our conversation jogged a few foggy old memories out of the dusty hiding space they've been stored in, but for the most part, I get the feeling that there are entire swathes of my life history that I have forgotten, or don't understand, or that no longer make sense.

Contrast this with Nancy, who remembers every song lyric every written, every minute of her college years and can recount them with hilarious precision, every friend she's ever had.  Or my grandmother, who claims to remember being a newborn, and can also recall every wrong ever done her.  Ever.

And it's not just my college years.  If it was, I could just explain that by the fact that I was drunk for most of them.  No.  It's huge quantities of my life.  It's people who were dear friends.  Events that shaped who I am.  Decisions made.  If they don't fall into some of the biggest metanarratives I tell about myself, they're gone.  Vanished. 

What the hell?

It's disorienting, this incredible loss of detail.  I mean, to some extent, I think it's probably enabled me to go full speed ahead with everything.  You ask me how I do "it all"--work, mothering, wifing, whatever--and maybe it's this:  maybe I sweep old things, things that aren't being used at the moment, out of my brain, to make way for new, more immediate stuff.  Maybe it's how I deal with pain.  Or maybe it's not such a big deal, nothing quite so deep as all of that.  Maybe I shouldn't worry about it.

Except that I'm starting to miss some of it.  I'm wishing I had my own personal "This Is Your Life" episode, so that I could be reminded of the amazing, wonderful people I've forgotten, and the experiences I've had.  Even the mistakes I've made.

This has been embarrassing at times.  I remember going home to Boise once, in my twenties, and going out dancing with a guy I was dating.  We ran into a bunch of people who clearly knew me, whom I went to college with, one I had even dated.  And I couldn't remember them at all.  Not even a little.  This was a terrible feeling, and I knew they were hurt.  But it just wasn't there. 

I used to keep scrapbooks, pages and pages of prom pictures and love notes and compressed helium balloons.  I threw a bunch away a few years back, wanting to rid myself of reminders of then, the not-me, the not-now.  The rest are in storage somewhere.  But even those contain just bits of stories.

It's not, by the way, that I haven't lived a great life.  I have.  I feel its fullness so much sometimes--am so filled with gratitude--that it's overwhelming.  I feel most of it deeply, live feelingly everyday.  Which is why I often don't take cameras on trips; I want to just be there, be in the moment, and live it, rather than frame each second.

But that leads to this predicament:  an overall sense of well-being and prosperity, and an almost complete lack of detail, relief.  Will I ever get those moments back?  Is there a way to remember again?

I think a big part of it is that I've lost so many friends over the years, from high school, college, grad school....  There has been nobody to reminisce with over these years, nobody to remind me who I was, and to love me or forgive me for it.  It's partly why I'm so envious of all of you who have kept everyone in your life.  Maybe that's been the biggest loss of all:  not the memories, but the connections.  I've gained a lot, moving forward so fast, and have lost tons, too.

Which is also probably why I remember the last seven years better than the 25 before, too.  Because we've been here since 2001, have built friendships and connections, and try to sustain them as best we can.  So memories of me are out there, and my memories are embodied in those around me, and so there is access, and sharing.  A good lesson to learn, but I'm sorry it came so late.

Weird how these things happen, isn't it?  The way the past calls to you when you least expect it?  I'm getting doses and doses lately.


  1. I think I remember a lot of details, especially from certain eras of my life, because I was always intently observing. But observing is often one step removed from what's happening--not entirely acting in the present, but watching the present unfold. All the people I know who move in the manner I refer to as "constant forward motion" (like you) seem to forget a lot, but they're also more action oriented and seem to get more done. In my constant forward motion phases, like during the school quarter, I notice that I forget a lot too. I think as a writer I prefer the observer position, but life requires the CFM too.

    Song lyrics are another story. I have a steel trap mind for them. If only I could turn it into cash.

    Anyway, loved this post.


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