Do you remember what you did yesterday? Two weeks ago? Last month, to the day? How about last year or five years ago? Ten years ago? Yesterday at this time I was getting ready to go to the library while my husband was on a conference call. Two weeks ago, I was up in arms over the little girl who was suspended by her elementary school because she shaved her head to support her friend with cancer. Last month, I was at Caribou Coffee, reviewing books I have read and books that I want to read to figure out ‘Confessions Of A Bookaholic’ Noteworthy Fiction and Nonfiction lists through June. I had a mocha with hazelnut and two doughnut minimuffins on hand, though I saved the second one for my husband. Five years ago, I was working through a novel (that I lost last year in the great data crisis) getting the first twenty pages to be workshopped for what would be my final residency in my MFA program. I was in bed, trying to tune Joe out, who was in the corner on his computer – he refused to give me my alone time when I worked (well… ever really). Ten years ago, I was going over my dorm programs to make sure I had completed all of my RA requirements, while working out a program Ronnie (a fellow RA) owed me because I took her shift on Valentine’s Day that same year, which was a Saturday night (also was my first big alcohol bust, but that is a story for another time).
I have a freaky memory or so many people have told me. I remember nearly everything I experience or witness, from the significant to the insignificant, from specific dialogue to what someone was wearing or how they smelled. I remember facts and feelings, whether I want to or not. I have always been this way. Sometimes it comes in handy: don’t try to win an argument with me about what happened; you will surely lose. I was the person who always aced my exams (sometimes my uncanny recall made me feel like I was cheating), even if I didn’t do most of my assignments (I always had my reasons for not doing them, not that those reasons ever held up with any of my teachers).
Imagine every song that has ever been stuck in your head and then play them all simultaneously. Yeah, that’s my inner dialogue sometimes; full of Disney movie songs (like The Little Mermaid’s “Part Of Your World”) and random songs I head on the radio (Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”) or used to dance to (the Macarena). What’s worse is that now I can’t get them out of my head since I am no longer able to hear music. Headphones are out and now with my deafness (see When The World Goes Quiet) I cannot distinguish words from the background instruments and bass. How do I keep my sanity? I’m not sure, but I do (or so I like to think).
As a writer I am lucky to have the recall that I do. When I say I remember, I mean that I remember everything associated with that event. It isn’t like on television when someone has a photographic memory (which some argue is not actually a thing in real life), but there are certain similarities. For me, it has always worked like a search engine. A word or event or phrase or question would trigger every memory associated with said trigger, just like a Google search. Unlike a search engine, however, I am not able to simply select what memory to retrieve but am instead forced to go through each one chronologically.
Of course, the strokes and seizures that I experienced on my 25th birthday have altered my ability to some extent. It still works the same, there is a trigger and everything associated with said trigger comes up. Before, I remembered everything as if I was reliving the memory all over again. I could look around and see the different people, what they were wearing, smells, facial expressions, entire conversations word for word, etc. Now, it is more like I am watching it take place and while I still remember how things smelled, entire conversations I don’t have the enhanced detail that I used to. It was almost like before I could analyze a memory play by play, focus on certain details to bring them forward. Now I am unable to do that, but since ridiculous memory is not a need in my daily life it doesn’t really affect me. The other thing is that for the time period between July 28, 2009 and December 23, 2009 my mind is almost nothing but a haze. I have very limited memory during this period because of the neurological and physical recovery I went through after having my strokes (which were caused by a rare infection I spent that time period fighting).
Because I have experienced super memory, hazy very limited memory and remember what it was like immediately after my strokes, where my short-term memory was nearly nonexistent, I can say without a doubt that I prefer too much memory as opposed to no or little memory, but it isn’t as great or cool as it may sound. My husband knows this better than anyone. Whenever we have an argument over something one of us did or did not do, my recall is almost like a rap sheet. I remember every single time he did something down to the date, time, circumstances, excuse he gave at the time, etc. It isn’t that I hang onto these things, because I don’t, but again Google search and the ‘thing’ in question is the trigger. To be fair, I do the same thing with myself though. Every time I let my temper get the best of me, what I said in anger, in way of apology, weather outside, the date, etc. So it isn’t like my memory skews things in my favor.
Usually, my memory is a quite the pain because it is the perfect example of ‘too much of a good thing’. Imagine something you wanted desperately to forget, but you were never able to, it is always as fresh as yesterday. When I worked as a victim advocate every case I took on stayed with me, every offender, every survivor, and every outcome: not to mention my own traumas that prompted me to become an advocate in the first place. I gave it up after nearly two years because it was too much and I was so overwhelmed I was truly anti-guy for a solid twelve months; recovering from all the wrongs that made me question humanity in general for many months afterward (luckily, I did: terrible people are not representative of the demographics they fit into). I could not keep blaming everything with a penis and I was hyper-rational (as my husband calls it) even back then, so while my voicemail basically told any guy calling to take a hike, with much more colorful verbage, I knew my attitude was unfair and worked to resolve it. The truth is not being able to forget something traumatic or even unpleasant makes it that much more difficult to move past.
It is not just about what it done to you, but what you do to others. While I am hyper-rational, I am a redhead and lose my cool at times. I remember every ‘out of line’ thing I have said to anyone. The first time I made my mother cry was the day before my fifth birthday when she let me open a present early and I opened what was a sketch pad. Not knowing what it was, and seeing it was blank, I said, “Ugh, what is this. There’s nothing here!” My mother burst into tears and ran into the kitchen. My father reprimanded me quickly. “Danny, that was not very nice. Your mom put a lot of thought into that gift. It is for you to draw your own pictures. Go in there and apologize.” And I did. But I remember… every time I say something that pricks someone else, I have that conversation recall, see the change of their facial expression, can tell you how many tears fell if crying was involved, and it makes me feel like the most horrible person in the universe. I don’t make a habit of saying terrible things to my husband, but that doesn’t mean I never have. And I remember… Every. Single. One. That can be difficult. Living in the past is not recommended and forgiving others so that they do not have power over you is important, but I think people forget that forgiving yourself is much harder to do.
The funny thing is my husband has a terrible memory. He’ll forget something he did or said or did or forgot to do (yes, it is the I forgot that I forgot to do this that is the most antagonizing). I doubt he remembers the things that I still push away every now and then, so insignificant on their own, neither defining nor cruel, just the wrong thing at the wrong time, and yet I remember every hurt look, the change in tone and the few times they sparked a more physical reaction. They are sharp and I put them away, focusing instead on how to make him feel special and as amazing as he is, and loved, every day. (It is one of my thirty 2014 resolutions, thank you.)
We often joke that the universe put quite the pair together with us. Roy hears just fine, but can’t remember long enough to tell me what was said or transpired, even if it was only three minutes ago. I on the other hand, am the sponge that retains everything, but I don’t hear a damn thing. How is that for ironic?
The other way it is a nuisance is when it comes to keeping score. Fairness matters to me and the big thing to spark me is when I see someone else being bullied or taken advantage of (and when it comes to myself, I just don’t put up with it). Relationships are give and take so imagine when your Google trigger constantly reminds you how much more you do or how much more the other person does for you, all of the time. Relationships being 50/50 is a myth when it comes down to individual things, only equal amounts of effort or willingness is necessary (and even this may be a myth). The first six months after we moved out to Colorado, Roy’s brother had been to our house 5 times, while Roy and I went up to his house 26 times. His wife had only been to the house once. I didn’t point this out to Roy when he would get upset that they never came over and never seemed to make an effort because I knew this would enhance the sting, just like I never made it a point to note any imbalance until he brought it up.
On the other hand we have wonderful neighbors across the street. The first day we stayed in our house we were without furniture. The truck was a day late so we would have to sleep on the floor that night. Our neighbors offered us their air mattress, which we politely declined (I regretted doing so the next morning). A few months later, after they gave us some candied popcorn, I said, “You know, I really want to send them another thank you card.”
“Michael…” Roy started.
“Don’t worry, I’m not, we’ll just say thank you the next time we see them. Otherwise this thank-you’ing may never stop.” You see, that would have been a thank you to their thank you to our thank you for their original act of kindness. Try saying that three times fast!
Life is not about keeping score and no matter what side of the scoreboard you fall on, nothing good (or warm and fuzzy feelings) can come from that knowledge. It can lead to you feeling like you’re getting the short end of the stick or not being a good enough (friend, neighbor, spouse, etc.) – a real lose/lose. So I push such kindness when I’m moved to, rather than to even the playing field, because if it had to do with a score then it isn’t worth doing (it would be for the wrong reasons) and hope I show gratitude as well as I make my limits clear.
For the most part though, my memory is utilized for entertainment purposes. My husband will read something I wrote and ask, “How can you remember that?” It still surprises him and when it does he’ll ‘do you remember’ which will end with me reciting entire conversations. That honeymoon period that every couple goes through, I get to visit anytime I like. And my husband knows I will gladly transport him back with details of our first date, initial courting period and recitals of entire conversations we had early on in our relationship.
Living in the past is not healthy as a rule, but visiting those happy moments when everything was new and butterflies spun circles around you with sensually dizzying effects is one way I am able to make my ‘nag of a memory’ pleasant for both my husband and me. It is one kind of ‘reliving’ I highly recommend. 🙂
I don’t pretend to know exactly what to call my memory, before the events of 2009, or after. I don’t remember random dates or statistical data, it really centers on me and my experiences, profound or not. For this reason and because of how people who have this condition describe their experiences, I have included links for Hyperthemesia because the condition and process describes my experience with my memory very well, from how it works to the anxiety it can sometimes produce. I have not been tested formally, and have no interest in being tested. (The result wouldn’t change anything and it is neither a problem I want to solve, nor an asset I want to exploit.)