Aug 27, 2010

Slipping, a Faulty Memory

I’ve existed for over half a century. That is mind-boggling. It seems like a long time, over five hundred thousand hours of thinking; you’d think there would be a lot to remember. Not really. About half that time I slept away. Many of my memories are faded, skewed and some are flat out fiction. There are few points of pure clarity. That’s not helpful if you’re a writer.

My recent memory isn’t bad and by recent I mean maybe a month ago. Events from my early years are more obscure like old snapshots in a deteriorating photo album: here I am at two, in a stroller with my brother; here I am staring out a car window, a prairie landscape skimming by and here I am throwing rocks into a lake with faceless friends of yesterday. I have thousands of snapshots like that floating about in my subconscious. Was it real? Is it real? Maybe life is but a dream.

I’ve read that the cells of the brain have a limited shelf life. Our brains will shrink and wear out as we age. I believe it. There are things you try to forget and can’t. Other things you try to recall and it slips away. I have a vivid memory of an annoying girl from high school. I remember her name, see her eye-glassed and pimpled face and visualize the pink sweater and blue-gray wool skirt she wore ‘everyday’, according to my memory. But there’s only a faint glimpse of a girl I dated for a couple of months. I don’t remember her name. I’m embarrassed to say that I barely remember my own wedding. Worse, I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night and I don’t drink.
“You’re slipping,” the guy in the mirror says. It doesn’t help to hear that when you’re shaving.

I wonder if my brain is crumbling? I worry if I’m a candidate for Alzheimer’s. Looking at my family history, there’s no evidence of it. My mother had a pretty good memory. She would tell us about her childhood during the war, stories of the German occupation in Belgium. Her stories were riveting with such fine detail and clarity. She was eighty-two when she died in 2008. Cancer. It seems almost impossible up here in my questionable memory. It feels more recent than that. I find the pain and disbelief of her death beginning to subside but with that, there’s a gnawing thought that keeps nibbling the soft cheese. What if I start to forget her life? I already feel guilty that I don’t think about her or my father much. I can still clearly see them both in their respective caskets. I suppose my mind tells me to retain these images because they are important and I want to remember. I hope that doesn’t sound too morbid.
“You are slipping.” I guess, maybe I am.

My wife’s memory is terrific. She relates stories and events from our thirty years together and I nod and say, “Really!” or “Really?” depending on the importance. More often, it’s the second ‘really?’ that I entertain. She’ll tell me that it’s so-and-so’s birthday and I cringe. Some of these people are obscure, some of them my own relatives. As long as I don’t forget her birthday, our son’s or our wedding anniversary, I think I’m safe.

“No, you’re slipping.” OK, I am.
I don’t remember everything about our relationship that I should. Let me write that down to remind myself. Maybe I should stop writing altogether? If I’m not being honest then why bother. The thing is I am being honest, as far as I can remember. Forget what I said.