Memory’s Going, Thank Goodness for Whatshisname!
My husband just sent a birthday card to his brother. Trouble is, his birthday is 6 months away. It was a shock to my husband that his brain is working a bit “differently” than it used to, and it highlighted for me just how worried we all are about our memories slipping.
My short-term memory is almost completely shot – I can meet a person one week, and not remember them the next week, yet I remember names and facts from my past from as far back as kindergarten! My memory of names is getting so bad that my husband automatically knows that if I don’t introduce him to someone, that is code for “I have no idea what their name is.”
Though I have to admit details sometimes blur, and it takes a bit of jogging to get the long held memory correct.
As one example, a group of us from elementary school were trying to recall our sixth grade graduation songs, and after I came up with a kooky one, few believed me. After we collectively came up with a song list, we saw they were all from movies. Our theme was movie songs, and since everyone knew the song I pointed out, they then believed me.
It’s a quirky part of the aging process that long term memory is retained far longer than short-term memory.
I used to pride myself on my ability to recall the names of all of my elementary and jr. high teachers, and most of my HS ones. I remembered details from events as early as first grade. I remembered just about anyone from my world in those years that actually interacted with me.
Past boyfriends used to be annoyed at how deadly accurate I was with details of events where I felt I was wronged. It was a weapon that was easy to use.
One professor told me once that I had a memory like a steel trap. I felt fortunate because I know many others who either killed too many brain cells recreationally, or just didn’t have the natural capacity for memory that I had.
Beginning in the last several years though, specific details are definitely getting fuzzier.
I have no idea why my brain keeps data stored from pre 1980, like obscure lyrics, or memory of people and events, yet post 1980, I am more likely not to remember.
And for those people from long ago, sometimes I weirdly recognize them when visiting my hometown. I seem to have mental telepathy for recognizing and remembering even casual acquaintances from my past.
Dates though, from way back events, are getting fuzzy. I may say that something happened in 6th grade, and find out it was in 7th or 8th. So far this hasn’t been a major problem because I don’t get many opportunities to do that kind of reminiscing.
That’s why I rely on old, old (no, not by age – by longevity, don’t think vicious thoughts) friends from long ago. Such as whatshisname, who still has an absolute crackerjack memory and who is in touch via email. And whatshername, who I knew from overnight camp and high school and with whom I used to brag how we were the only ones who remember EVERYTHING. Now when she asks me if I remember so and so, I usually reply, “The name sounds familiar.” (Uh, Barb, I think I lost bragging rights to memory.) And still another friend from early college, who is positively freaky with detailed memory. (She now is required to warn me before she divulges a fact that I had long forgotten.)
Many of my long-term memories for people and places and dates are now just a few mere imprints of events stamped on my brain, but no longer full detailed scenes of events. My mind movies have become blurry watercolor stills.
Does that absolutely eliminate me from a memoir writing future? (As a friend pointed out recently, Oprah would have a field day.) Maybe I will have to stick to novels.