I’m aging, you see, as we all are, though those under thirty and many under forty don’t know it yet, so we’ll leave them be. But for those of us at or past the midpoint of our lives, this is a serious business. So listen up.
Wait, where are my glasses?
Okay. Now answer me this: What happens to our lost memories? Where go the images, sounds, faces, joys, and gaffes of our years? The meals savored, the ardent kisses, the shouting matches, the sunsets, the perfect jeans, the hangovers, the knowing looks, the job interviews, the busses caught and missed, the thousands upon thousands of pages read. Gone? But to where?
I ask this because a few years ago when I was taking a Spanish class, I was shocked to find that when I prepared to, say, count in Spanish, what came out was French, which I hadn’t spoken since high school. And it wasn’t just numbers that emerged unbidden, but verb conjugations, vocabulary, and dialogues that had been forgotten for decades (Ou est Phillipe? A la piscine…). But evidently it was all in there, in some hidden foreign language closet in my brain, which, by the way, has since gone missing again.
At eighty-six, a woman I love dearly has forgotten enough things to fill a stadium. Yankee Stadium, to be exact. There, behind home plate, is the Chrysler she drove for thirteen years but can’t recall. (“Was that before or after the Chevy?”) At first base is how to sew. (“A French seam? I have no idea.”) At second is the time she painted her daughter’s bedroom brown. (“Why would I paint a little girl’s room brown?”) At third is how to use her DVD player. (“I know you wrote it down, but I can’t find that paper.”) And there on the pitcher’s mound, huge and imposing, is what it was really like to be a single mom with five kids. (“It was fun—my kids were good.” Oh come on.) Scattered in the outfield is the year she graduated from college, how to parallel park, which fork to use, what a minor chord is, the names of those neighbors who moved away last week, and…where she put her glasses.
So tell me: Is all of that somewhere in her hidden memory stadium? Or is it simply gone?
I opened an ancient folder on my computer a while ago labeled Children’s Books. In it were files dating back to 1995, with that ancient Microsoft Word icon, the blocky, flared, yellow-and-blue W. I’d created a file for each of the books I was planning to write, which at the time probably seemed overly cautious because how could I ever forget those great ideas? They have titles such as “Nicholas and the Great Dream” and “Wrong Century.” Oh yes, here I go—off to write the books whose titles ring not one bell in the belfry of my big empty head.
There’s another folder for a book I was planning about all the zany missteps of being a thirty-something with kids. Here are the chapter titles:
Bad Year for Pets (Is there a forgotten a pile of dead critters somewhere?)
Creativity and Chaos (Now that’s unique.)
Dad (Gimme something here. What about him?)
Dinner with Dad and the Kids (Something about entrees? Extra napkins?)
Gross Waiters (Must we?)
Landlords and Wretched Apartments (I recall several.)
Random Relationships (Uh…)
Trip to Austin (I have been to Texas.)
Traveling with Kids (This contains the note “Oopsie-Doopsie.” Whatever.)
Stupid Things Done (Another note: “Cracking the frog tank with the space heater.” I actually remember that. But even if I’d forgotten every stupid thing I was once planning to chronicle here, I could easily fill it with events from, say, the past twenty-four hours.)
Some time ago I was at the grocery store when a woman and a teenage girl strode up to me with broad smiles. The woman thanked me for the crockpot of seasoned beef I’d sent to school that day for a teacher luncheon. I had indeed sent that food, but how did she know that? Who was she? I smiled and nodded and then got a flash of inspiration: This must be the woman I’d been emailing about the luncheon! Yes! So I boldly said, “You’re quite welcome, Fran.”
But it wasn’t Fran. It was Annemarie. And the kid she was with was my daughter’s friend. We’d met before, they assured me, ticking off the many swim meets and back-to-school nights at which we’d chatted. For the love of God, I would have sworn I’d never seen them before.
So I’m not so sure about that memory closet, or the stadium. Rote learning aside, I think memory is more like having the windows open as we speed down the vast highway of life. While we’re racing ahead, glancing at the map and hoping we have enough gas for the trip, memories of all kinds are swept out the back window by the brisk wind of time. And they are truly…gone.
I’ve already apologized to my husband and kids for whatever I have forgotten or will forget about our lives together. I’ve taken a lot of photos over the years and filled many journals, so maybe someday, when I’m just a smiling, vapid blob in a rocker, someone can tell me about myself. Until then, I guess I’ll just keep on driving.