I’m doing a writing challenge in February with some online friends. My goal is simply to write more often. It should be a fairly easy goal to attain, since I have been blogging so rarely. Some days, like today, I’ll be using prompts from my writer’s group as inspiration for the posts. Other days I might do something different.
I’ve always had a terrible memory. It isn’t something I fully realize until I’m faced with evidence of how poor my memory really is. Dusty will bring up something like this in conversation: “Remember that house in Maxwell that we almost rented? It was a white story and a half with a red door, a detached garage and a mudroom off the side entrance.” I stare blankly at my husband and shrug my shoulders or throw him a “Whatchoo talkin’ about, Willis?” look. That was almost twenty years ago. How could I possibly be expected to remember it? I’m outwardly nonchalant about my inability to recall such details, but this is something that worries me very much. I don’t even recall looking for rentals in that town, but Dusty remembers the house with annoying specificity.
I remember very little about my childhood. There are bits and pieces filed away in my mind - fragments so incomplete they would need embellishment to form a true memory. If I have to add substance to make them complete, then are they really memories at all? Why don’t I recall the same things my brothers do? I experienced those events too, but have no working memory of them. Could it be that I have a traumatic secret about my childhood hidden in the folds of my brain somewhere, repressed from my memory retrieval functions in order to protect me? I don’t think so. My childhood was neither tragic nor idyllic. It was more good than bad.
I find it difficult to recall specifics. Bits and pieces are there: My mother stands heavily pregnant in the kitchen sweeping the floor, as her water breaks. I think I know which brother was born a few hours later, but I cannot be certain. A different memory: Dad comes upstairs from the basement, holding his hand as it is dripping with blood. “I think I cut myself.” He states, in a daze. (The understatement struck me as funny: he had nearly severed his finger with a band saw.) Mom was efficient, calm under pressure and had someone (was it me?) go next door to ask the neighbor to drive Dad to the hospital. I must remember these because they were both big events. But perhaps I only remember them because they are stories that have been told around tables before.
Memories about my own children are hazy too. It’s one of the reasons I have taken so many pictures of them throughout the years. They show me information that my brain does not retain. Reviewing old journal entries and blog posts is both entertaining and appalling to me. I love to read about something that one of my children did, but I am appalled that I have no memory of the incident, even when I wrote a blog post about it! Not long ago, I was reading some of the journal entries I wrote after our son Joseph was stillborn. I had the strangest sensation while reading it. It felt like reading about someone else’s experience. It made me sad that I had forgotten so much of that experience, but at the same time, I am glad not to be living with that fresh grief any longer.
Memory is funny, though. Experiences we would like to forget can’t be shoved aside to make room for those we want to remember. I have a seventeen-year-old memory that I would like to permanently evict from its comfortable home in my brain. It likes to pop up and torment me now and then, and when it does, my body reacts physically with a tensing of the muscles and my psyche follows with an emotional vulnerability that can last for days. Why couldn’t the memory of that experience shrivel up and die in the recesses of my brain? Some niggling thought process must be watering it occasionally, keeping it alive back there.
I wonder why some people (like my husband) naturally have superior memories. I suppose it’s a skill that you’re either gifted with or not. My brain puts memory (along with geography, directional sense, and cleanliness) on the back burner and focuses its energy on other skills: multi-tasking, communication,militant spelling. I guess my general awesomeness just takes up too much space in my brain to have a fully functioning memory. I can live with that.