I don’t. Count on it.
I have a fantastically terrible long-term memory. The thing is, I can’t even remember whether it’s always been like this. Memory loss is a typical after-effect from barely surviving septic shock, which I did more than a decade ago. I do remember thinking my memory was getting bad soon after I recovered. But if it was bad before that, I don’t know.
It’s not getting worse. It’s just consistently bad. I’m not putting my keys in the freezer or forgetting where I live. Although I did ask my doctor to give me a memory test. I passed with flying colors. Whew.
The revelation by Courteney Cox that she has a terrible memory made me feel a little better. There was no trauma in her younger years. She just doesn’t recall very much about being a kid. And she was particularly “bummed out” that she didn’t remember much about making the TV series Friends, when they filmed the reunion special.
Friends was on for a decade. Cox doesn’t do crack. So what’s the deal?
Well, some of us remember things better than others. Derek remembers a lot from his childhood. Just don’t ask him what he had for lunch! His family stories are wonderful about growing up with five siblings, a Leave-it-to-Beaver executive Dad, and a stay-at-home Mom. He tells me details about camping trips, visiting places in London that no longer exist. Tidbits about his parents. It’s delightful. He remembers Christmas gifts and they year he got them. I can think of a few presents but the year? All I get is a blank slate.
I recall only flashes of detail from my childhood, and precious few of them compared to Derek. My childhood wasn’t as happy as his but that isn’t necessarily the reason for the difference. No one’s certain what the reason is. Memory is one of those areas of physiology and human experience that still isn’t fully understood.
There’s a syndrome called hyperthymesia that identifies people who have amazing personal memories. There are only a handful of them in the world. Marilu Henner is one of them. Most people can remember 8 to 11 days out of any year. Henner and fellow HSAM people recall every minute of every day, like a movie playing in their minds. I can’t remember the paintings I saw when we toured Renoir’s house in France. Henner would remember each step through the creaky home and what was on every wall.
While HSAM memory keepers can’t forget anything, researchers think there are other people who are simply the opposite. There’s no illness involved or anything that shows up on a brain scan. You have blue eyes, I have brown eyes. You can remember Sunday dinners when you were six. I don’t know for sure that anyone fed me. I’m here, so they must have.
I remember that my maternal Grandma loved Perry Como and we were instructed to love him too, when Grandma visited and one of Como’s specials was on TV. We watched Little House on the Prairie, The Brady Bunch, Star Trek, and loads of other shows. But I know people who remember what day and time those shows were on. I don’t have a clue. Keith Partridge and I had a standing date for new episodes of The Partridge Family, but I couldn’t tell you when they occurred without consulting Google.
Recently, I was thinking about a family that lived across from us in Grimsby, ON. The son, who was a couple of years older than me, announced one afternoon that he and I would get married one day. I was around the age of ten. Was his name Jim? Or Brian. You’d think I might remember my first marriage proposal, overbearing as it was. After his family moved, their horrified realtor confided to my Mom that they had swept every cat turd under a basement rug. That marriage never would have worked out.
It’s probably true that I’ve blocked out some memories, but then why remember others – of being bullied and humiliated? That’s the kind of thing a poor memory ought to protect me from. The only thing that makes sense is that I simply have an overall poor ability to remember. It certainly isn’t selective enough for my liking.
But I do think it’s better than being like Marilu Henner. How exhausting would it be to remember everything? Not just the highlights and lowlights, but the in-between boring-lights.
Henner does a great party trick or two. You can ask her what day of the week any date was and she knows. Say January 15, 1976 and she’ll spit out, “Thursday” immediately, whereas I went to Google. But maybe that day was better left forgotten? Not every detail of every day is worth recalling. A chunk of her brain is taken up with the times she sat in a doctor’s waiting room, reading an old magazine. She can tell you with certainty which magazines and articles she read. What good is that? I’m leaving space in my brain for more important things like what my late Dad’s voice sounded like. The smell of the kitchen at Grandma’s on Christmas. And remembering to clean out the cat box.