The Blessing and Curse of a Near Perfect Memory

When I was two and a half, my mother enrolled me in a Catholic preschool. I remember playing with the toys, while she signed me up and I remember going every day. I remember the stern, black nun, holding my hand. I remember thinking that black people must sweat a lot, because her hands were sweaty and at age two, I hadn’t spent a lot of time with people of color. I remember when Santa came to visit the preschool. He brought me a Fisher-Price drum and I wore a dress with Scottish terriers on it, because #90skid.

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I saw Jurassic Park in theaters when I was five years old. I was so scared that I tucked my head into my teal and purple Aladdin t-shirt for the majority of the movie, and sat in my mother’s lap, terrified. That same summer, I saw Hocus Pocus with my Gramma, who hid an entire sleeve of gas station brownies under her coat, because she’d do anything for her grandkids, no matter how ridiculous… and just like Jurassic Park, I saw little of the movie with my face hidden in said coat the entire time.

When I started kindergarten, my mother wasn’t able to take me to school on my first day, so the weekend before, she had me don my First Day Outfit, did my hair, and loaded up my backpack. She took me to the school and had me walk up to the locked doors while she took pictures and had me pose in front of the school, insisting that years from now, I’d never remember it wasn’t really the first day of school.

For much of my life, it’s been a running joke that I remember everything, with friends and family and coworkers, but only in the last few years have I realized that I truly have a capacity for memory beyond what is normal. Though I’m sure I could map out our trailer house from when I was five, I don’t think it qualifies as an eidetic/photographic memory. You see, I can vividly recall far more than just imagery. I don’t just remember when my grandfather died right after I turned five. I remember being confused about why we had to bury him, instead of just propping him up at family events and pretending he was still alive. I remember asking if we could keep the body and my parents (probably confused and a little creeped out by the question), telling me it was illegal. I remember reasoning, in my five-year-old brain, that we could hide grandpa in the hamper if the police came, because that was the best hiding place in the house. I remember I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral, because I was too young, but considering these other thoughts, I think it might have helped me to understand.

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I could go on and on about the detailed thoughts and feelings and conversations and events of my childhood, despite the fact that many people tell me they don’t really have memories before the age of 7, but these aren’t the only years I remember with such clarity. I can recount, verbatim, entire conversations and events from middle school and high school. I can precisely quote multiple nights out with friends in my early twenties. I can remember what I wore, what Jake wore, which side of the table we both sat on, what we talked about, on our first date, our second date, our third date. While it is, indeed, a blessing in many ways, in others… well, not so much.

I am the best at arguments.

“Don’t you tell me that the last movie we saw in theaters was a Belle Movie, when I remember perfectly well that it was absolutely a Jake Movie. I did not want to see it just as badly as you did and in fact, I told you that it had bad reviews… and come to think of it, the one before that was also a Jake Movie, so you don’t just owe me one Belle Movie, but two.”

“I asked you nicely four times on four separate occasions to go through your mail, before I threatened to throw it all in the trash, so don’t act like I’m being unreasonable. It was so four. I asked on Thursday, when you came home for your lunch, before I went to work. I asked on Friday before dinner. I asked yesterday after work and I asked this morning, when we got up.”

“Two months ago, you agreed that the next time we went to a rodeo, if the Christmas store was open, we could go there first. Just because you didn’t think it would be open in September, that doesn’t mean you aren’t bound by your promise, mister.”

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I get embarrassed/angry/stressed out about interactions that no one else even remembers.

In the 11th grade, someone called me “squinty-eyed.” Sometimes, I’ll randomly wonder, 15 years later: Am I squinty-eyed? Was it just my contacts? Did Lasik fix it? Is it just my face?

I still remember, with perfect clarity, what it felt like to be 270 pounds, at 22. I remember that no one was ever cruel to me, because they saw right through me, like the time the video store clerk called to the man behind me, that they could take the next person in line. I remember looking around a college classroom and realizing that I was the fattest person in the room. I remember staring at myself naked and thinking that I didn’t even look like a woman anymore. I remember paying more for plus-sized clothing, being hot all the time, not being able to breathe, my feet constantly hurting, and every time I gain five pounds, I fear I’ll wake up right back there.

Catherine once said, about her best friend, “She’s just being a bitch, because she can’t get pregnant.” At my 30th birthday party, she went on and on about how Laura was crazy and her kids were afraid of her and Catherine was going to change her own locks so Laura couldn’t get into her house. Gail didn’t even remember these conversations, but every now and then, it really pisses me off that Catherine acted like was the only Mean Girl in that group of Mean Girls and I’m sure it still will in 10 years.

Last Christmas, Jake’s cousin and his wife wore matching Willie Nelson Christmas shirts. I made a reference to Duck Dynasty, not because I didn’t know who Willie Nelson was, but because the shirt made me think of it. I still stress out over the idea that Jake’s very country family thinks I can’t identify Willie Nelson.

I’m more introspective and focused on self-improvement.

It’s a lot easier to acknowledge a need for change, when you can vividly remember every shitty thing you’ve ever said or done. I think, for people with average memories, it’s easier to put these things off on others, claim that someone else started the conversation or told that secret or made that joke. I, however, can remember all of the times I  found a reason to mock people I didn’t even know, to be catty about family and friends, and how I used Facebook as a visual aid… and I can remember how often other people did it, too, that this was normal social behavior.

These glaring recollections are the reason I did away with social media and this behavior entirely… and my perfect memory is the reason I can see how much my life has changed. I remember how much time I used to spend staring at my phone, talking about people I didn’t know or care about, and how ugly my comments tended to be, as a result. I remember that I talked about people instead of ideas and instead of doing things I actually found fulfilling, like reading, writing, crafting, and spending time with my husband and family.

Though my escape from social media has been hugely impactful, even just my innate ability to acknowledge that I’m guilty of being hypocritical or impulsive or lazy, helps me to improve. When I see the statistic that only 37% of Christians attend church weekly, it’s much harder for me to convince myself that I’m following my faith. When I tell my husband that we need to start spending less, it’s not as easy to ignore the $10 I spent at the gas station on beef jerky, or that book I bought on my Kindle. When I get frustrated that I haven’t been successful at losing weight, I can’t deny that it’s because I’ve been sneaking ice cream and candy all week.

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I have more trouble moving on.

As I get older, I realize that there are seasons in life and it is perfectly natural and healthy to drift from one to another… but I think I struggle with it more than some. When I was 24, my whole world revolved around school and Gail and my guy friends… until my guy friends and I started to move in different directions. Gradually, they stopped inviting me to do things with them, and didn’t make the same effort to keep up with me. At the time, I had to find fault in them doing so, telling myself that they were jealous of my academic and career success or that they didn’t want to move forward with their own lives, so they resented me for doing so. Now, I realize that we were all just growing and it was okay to do so in different directions.

Today, I find the same has happened with Gail and I. What was once a relationship that defined me as a person is now comprised of sporadic text messages and the rare meet up at the mall for lunch. It’s not that either of us is truly at fault, so much as it is that we live on opposite sides of the city and Gail has grown passionate about veganism and travel and charity, while I’m further on the traditional path for which I always longed; buying a home, having babies, getting involved with my conservative church, connecting with my siblings and their spouses. While I’m sure we’ll always be connected in some way, it’s still hard for me to move forward, without Gail, when our lives were once so entwined. I so clearly remember having lunch several times a week, texting each other throughout the day, discussing every decision, big or small, with her, and its unlikely that that’s what our future relationship holds.

I’d imagine the same will be true when my dog has to be put down, or my Gramma passes, or my children grow up, or my dad dies. While I think these trials are tough for anyone, I think I remember life’s stages more vividly and while that’s nice when you’re looking back fondly, it also makes for some much more painful longing.

It makes me better at my job.

“They should know better.” I hear this so many times a week, in my job as Teen Librarian and each and every time, my response is “Why?” Everyone expects to have to explain behavioral and social norms to children, but never to teens. Teens should “know better.” I remember being confused as to why I suddenly went from cute to annoying, sassy to mouthy. I remember every conversation being colored with patronizing tones and preachy, subjective religious stances. I remember adults refusing to speak to me like I was a person with feelings, capable of extreme embarrassment and regret and heartache, because “teenagers are stupid”… and it makes me a lot better at my job.

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Just yesterday, I sat in the teen area at work, talking to my kids, when a woman came back and rudely snapped “You guys don’t have your own room, you know.” I firmly replied “This actually is their space,” to which she responded that we were being really loud. No, we weren’t. The building is just stupidly designed in a way that funnels sound into the computer area. “We can be quieter, but this is the teen area.” I don’t think anyone ever championed me like that as a teenager and that just made me angrier and it made my life harder. My ability to remember exactly what it felt like to be 15 makes me so much better at my job.

Nostalgia hits me harder.

It’s a good thing I’m so happy with my life, y’all, because sometimes, I really miss being 16 years old, riding around with Gail and Malik. I remember my 17th birthday party so vividly, giggling as we played a pathetically PG version of “strip Twister,” when we were all virgins, who’d never been kissed, before any of us were divorced or addicted to drugs or had babies that died. I remember life before any of us made any real mistakes and I remember how it felt to have all of those decisions ahead of me. Thirty seemed so far away and I pictured my life so differently… because I couldn’t comprehend how great my life could be if I spread things out a little more, but I miss that naivety.

From what I understand, most people have vague impressions of childhood, their teen years, and even now their twenties… but I remember it all in extreme detail.

I remember my mother making me birthday pancakes every year, before school, even though she worked full time as a nurse. I remember how she volunteered for every field trip and put little green foot prints all over the bathroom on St. Patrick’s Day.

I remember, when I was 9, how my best friend teamed up with a boy down the street to lock me in a van and beat the crap out of me, because she didn’t know how to tell me she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I remember not telling my mother about it, when she picked me up, and how much it hurt that she was too distracted with her own life to notice something was wrong.

I remember my middle school crush and how horrible it felt that he didn’t like me back. I remember the embarrassment when his friends made fun of me. I remember how relentlessly I bullied him in revenge.

I remember sitting outside at lunch in high school, making nerdy jokes and having spinning contests, finally feeling accepted and welcome. I remember how much I loved those friends, who I no longer know and I miss them… not the 30-year-olds, but the 15-year-olds.

I remember the black cat I had as a teenager and how heartbroken I was the day she died, along with all of my other pets in the fire set by my ex. I remember exactly how the charred house smelled and the feel of warm water on my pants and I tried to salvage what I could. I remember everything about that day and exactly how horrible it felt.

I remember Grace, Gail’s daughter, and how much I loved her and how hard it was saying goodbye. I remember Gail and I leaning on each other during the hardest times in our lives and I miss that bond.

I remember being single and free to do as I wished, crafting and reading and Netflixing all night, and eventually waking to a feeling of emptiness and longing for my life to start.

I remember the uncertainty I felt in dating my husband. Was I texting too much or too little, did he really like me as much as I liked him, should I play hard to get, was I really as awkward as I thought I was and did he care? Yes and no, by the way. I remember the first time I told him I loved him and how badly I wanted to take it back, because it made me so vulnerable and I remember falling in love with him all over again a dozen times. I remember his proposal and the joy I felt walking down the aisle to him.

For better or worse, it seems I really do remember it all… and there are no rose colored glasses with a memory so clear.

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