Do You Remember?

black and white photo of me around age 8

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.

8 thoughts on “Do You Remember?”

  1. Love this – thanks for the, um, memories? I wish we could delete some of the minutiae like how long the intro time was to talk up on a particular “record”, the trivia that only impresses maybe 2 people in the whole world and you’ve yet to meet them…stuff like that. I’m finding since I no longer HAVE to remember people’s names, I don’t. I’m getting mentally lazy and two years of being anti-social (for the most part) has not helped. Time to go back to PVRing Jeopardy I guess – and rewatching to see if I remember the right answers! LOL Take care my friend. As Lennon & McCartney wrote in Two of Us: “You and I have memories – longer than the road that stretches out ahead….” E.

  2. Memories can be a blessing or a curse. I have known people who had to undergo E.C.T. Electro Convulsive Therapy to erase PTSD, to correct depression, or because they are pharmaceutically resistant to anti-depressants. It clears out the traumatic events from childhood etc. but it also takes other minutia with it. My memory is like yours, Lisa. I see pictures from promotions with famous people that I don’t even recall meeting. (And no there were not martinis involved.) It was true in childhood as well. My mother gave me the moniker “The Absent Minded Professor” from a movie I have not seen. I admit, living with someone with a memory that is mostly photographic leaves me in awe. It’s like sharing a life with The Amazing Kreskin. “How do you DO that?,” is heard often. I’m calling it “awe,” but it’s actually more like envy. I remember working with you and visiting you and Derek on many occasions. Those are always memorable. Where did you guys move to again?

    1. We’ll send you the map link before you visit again!! I remember JJ Johnston posting a photo of him, me, and Joan Jett. I have NO memory of meeting her. And others. 🙂

  3. It is an interesting topic, I think I have selective remembrance, which I consider wonderful. For example, I don’t remember that fight I had with my son last week about his daughter’s school schedule or something like that, so the next time I see him, I hold no resentment about a fight we may or may not of had. The thing to me that is unsettling, when someone says ‘remember when we did this or that’ and I might remember but I remember it wrong, as in, someone will say, oh yes, you did this or that. I remember the event most times, but don’t remember doing this or that. Or sometimes remember it totally different than them, which, I suppose, is understandable. I try now that I am turning 60 this year, to be deliberate in what I do with objects, I left my keys there, I put my cell phone done here…things like that. Memory can be a tricky thing, if I remember correctly…

  4. Wow that is crazy (Marilu, I mean) I have a pretty significant memory of things (much to the chagrin or perhaps to a little dismay of many former radio collegues/friends) but actual dates of things that happened – nope. Some things yes like my first day in radio March 3, 1981.
    Love the article.

  5. Memory, and its processes, fascinate me, so I love this piece. Think about this for a minute: Humans have the ability to remember their dreams. You can have a memory of a dream, which happened only in your head, just like you can have a memory of what you had for breakfast this morning — which happened in the real world. That to me says we have to be skeptical about our memories.

  6. When I was younger, I had a photographic memory. I could memorize anything by taking a picture of it in my brain and later pull it up and see it clearly. Then in a span of 3 years I had numerous surgeries, one I was under for 8 hours. I lost that ability. It’s never come back and I can’t really picture anything in my mind now. I also just have fleeting memories of childhood. I’m like you, for the most part I had a great childhood, but there were definite parts I’m happy I don’t remember. Some say it has to do with trauma. I can believe that to be true based on other parts of my life that are a total blank. I recently had some old home movies transferred from vhs to digital. While watching them for the first time In 15-20 years, there was some triggering moments from my first marriage that reminded me why I may not have forgotten but rather blocked a lot out. The mind protects us. Another great read, Lisa. ❤️

    1. You can’t picture things in your mind? That’s awful, Kendra. I’ve heard of all sorts of things that have happened after big surgeries. A friend of ours can no longer smell anything. It ruins food – I know that happens with COVID but it’s happened to him, permanently. Thanks for commenting. It sounds like your memory was once pretty amazing.

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