I have a bad memory. My longtime friends will tell me stories about myself from our high school days, and I enjoy them as if they are about someone else. When I go to a restaurant I’ve been to many times before, I will forget what I like or dislike on the menu. Sometimes when I’m watching TV, I’ll start flipping around the channels during a commercial break, and I’ll forget what show I was watching (Admittedly, this might not be my memory’s fault—I watch some pretty forgettable crap). Ever get in the shower and wash your hair twice? Ever forget what street you parked your car on? Ever forget when your father died? I had to Google it. It was 2002.
I’m especially bad with names. If you are a casual acquaintance of mine, and I run into you downtown, there is an 89% chance that while I am nodding and smiling at you during our conversation, I will have no idea what your name is. If you are a man, and I greet you with a variation of “Hey, Dude!” then I have no idea what your name is. If you’re a woman and I greet you with a friendly “Hey, There!” then I have no idea what your name is. Please “pepper” a few hints into the conversation as subtly as possible. A couple of suggestions:
“Hey, Tom, have I ever shown you my driver’s license?”
“Hello, Tom. Do you remember my name?”
Also please note that while you are talking to me and I’m busy trying to recall your name, I’m not listening to what you are saying, because I’m busy trying to recall your name. Which makes it a hundred times more likely that I won’t recall what you said later, because I didn’t hear it in the first place. Also note that I am not paying attention to what I’m saying, either, which explains why I say so many stupid things.
I’m also bad with numbers. I’m a huge LOST fan, but I don’t know what that notorious sequence of digits is. I know it starts with 18, and possibly has a 42 in it. I’m on the radio right now, and honest to God I don’t know what frequency this station broadcasts at. I’ve owned a cellphone for almost five years, but I still keep my number written down in my trusty notebook in case anyone asks me for it. License plate? No way. Social security number? Sometimes. Those extra digits they added to my zip code over two decades ago? Noooo. You know the old carpenter’s adage ‘measure twice and cut once’? Well, I measure thrice, and as an extra measure, I write it down. I still mess up the cut, but that’s because I’m a terrible carpenter. Can’t blame the ol’ noggin for everything.
I’ve forgotten so much of my 36 years—events, conversations, entire human beings—it makes me assume that what I do remember must be worth remembering. But I have retained memories of so much useless crap—Fido Dido t-shirts, episodes of Beans Baxter, the paperback novelization of Top Gun I bought at the supermarket when I was 13… Surely, these things are worthy of forgetting, right? Darren McGavin’s Firebird Twenty-Fifteen AD? The time I backed my grandmother’s car into a guardrail—twice? A Luke Skywalker action figure I lost in a rock wall in Littleton, Massachusetts? Why are these things squatting on my precious mental real estate when I can barely recall my first three or four girlfriends? Why do I remember a kid with really dry hands from first grade, but I forget what I had for dinner two nights ago?
My memory is selective, randomly discerning, and a mystery to me. I forget his name. I forget her birthday. I forget how much it cost. Time drifts by, phone calls are not returned, emails remain unwritten. Do I not remember things because they’re unimportant to me? Is it a bona fide medical condition? Am I just a mentally lazy person? I don’t know. Is it getting worse? Do I have too much RAM and not enough hard drive? Did the preceding sentence come out sounding sort of dirty? I don’t know that, either. But I do know this: I might forget you someday—your name and face and everything about you—but I need you to remember me. What I’ve liked and who I’ve loved and where I’ve lived and what I’ve done. In case I forget, and need a reminder.
* Forgetting is featured in my collection Everything You Didn’t Ask For.
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