Memory is such a strange thing. If you ask three different people to describe a certain event, there is no doubt that you will have three different answers. It happened today over lunch: my dad, my sister and I were recalling the morning of September 11, 2001. I don’t want to detail any of those events here, suffice it to say if there was one day I would like to never revisit, it would be that one. What I found interesting in the conversation we had is that each of us remembered different things about that morning: phone calls, emails, meeting as a family at my sister’s house – but we all agreed that the details have become more and more blurry as the years pass. I often see bumper stickers that say something to the affect of “9/11 – we will never forget” but the irony in those stickers is that forgetting is inevitable – we just do.
It got me thinking about things that happened in my past and how those memories that struck me at the time as so very important have faded over time. Like the memory of my second grade teacher, Mrs. Levin, and how she instilled in me a love of reading; but mostly it started with a game she played where we got prizes for the number of books we read. I really just wanted the prizes, never realizing until much later that my love of books would be the true prize. There’s the memory of being 16 and having my heart broken for the first time. Really and truly broken. Oh, the angst…I can almost reach out and touch it if I think about it too much – but dragging out those memories has become harder over time for me.
I wish I could remember the sound of my grandmother Bloom’s voice – she lost her voice box to throat cancer and the last seven years of her life were spent speaking through a stoma in her throat. But I can still hear my grandfather saying, “Katerino!” (he would draw out the last O for what seemed like minutes) whenever I arrived to visit – I can hear that voice like he’s in the next room even though he’s been gone almost 10 years. I wish I could remember exactly what happened the night I met my husband…bits of it are as clear as day, but not everything. And the one that has always baffled me are the memories of childbirth. I always say that if women remembered everything, we’d all only have one child – but there are moments from both of my girls’ births that are fuzzy at best.
Among other issues, my mother has some sort of dementia. Her memory is different from day to day and while now she is very lucid, it’s unclear how that will progress. I can’t think about memory without thinking about how she must feel and how scary it must be to actually lose memories. Because, even though I struggle with the details of them, I can still remember important things. The brain doesn’t seem to be very picky about what we remember or what we don’t. I have as much trouble fetching the fantastic memories as I do the ones I’d rather leave forgotten. I suppose after so many years of life the brain is so full of memories it squeezes out the old to make room for the new.