The Guilt of No Memory

My memory is like this… a blur of feeling that may or may not be connected to a specific event.

I have a terrible memory. Most of the time, I go through my life assuming that my memory is just mildly bad. A little less than those around me. But then I have weekends like last weekend.

I met up with an old friend of mine. This was not some passing acquaintance. This was my roommate for over a year. I was part of her wedding party. I shared significant, life-changing events with her. I haven’t seen her in five years, but that seems like a short time.

When we met up, I was excited to see her. To experience new things together. To hear about her life. To share my life with her. To re-meet her daughter and introduce her to my son. It was easy to be with her. We had so much to talk about.

But at some point, we began rehashing old memories. I was amazed at the amount of detail she could recall. When and how we met. Our first parties that we went to together. Specific presents. It was then that I realized that I didn’t remember her. At least not the way she remembered me. It was then that I realized I don’t have a poor memory but a downright shitty memory.

Often, my friends talk about their childhood. They talk about specific instances. People. Toys. Places. I have a few memories that I hold tightly to by retelling them. A pink plastic horse. Cornflower blue curtains. A centipede. But these brief flashes of memory are few compared to the rich bank of tales most of my friends have. I tell myself that is okay, that some people start their life-memories later. But how late?

Ask me about high school. Sure, I can tell you the basics. I can even name names. But there are no specifics. Everything is a blur. Ten years ago. Five years ago. Even my time in the Peace Corps, which was only four years ago. The specifics are gone.

Instead of memories, I have impressions. Like this friend that I met up with. I had an impression of her. She was good. She was positive. I could feel her in my skin and bones and movement. I remembered her. I just could not remember the things other people remember.

Maybe it comes from moving around too much. Maybe it comes from failing to make strong bonds as a young child. Maybe my mind is overloaded with memories. With people. Or maybe I am just lazy.

Sometimes I think I should work harder- to remember faces and names. To remember events. To remember specifics. Because it feels horrible to say that I don’t actually remember getting lunch with you. I don’t remember going out dancing. I don’t remember making out with you. I don’t remember that heartfelt gift you gave me.

Sometimes I am embarrassed by my lack of memory. I pretend to know people I have never met because I do not want to offend them by asking who they are a second time. I let friends think that I remember the details of our conversations and not just the general themes and results of them. But the truth is, most of the time I have no idea what happened last year.

Instead, I have a feeling. A strong feeling. A weak feeling. The turning of my heart- towards or away from you. I let my body remember you. I let it take on that effort. I allow my mind to remain liquid. I don’t discipline it. I don’t force it to be rigid when rigidity feels completely unnatural to me.

I know that some people think they are insignificant to my current life because I do not remember them. I have lost some friends because I am unable to maintain long-distance relationships by hashing out old memories. But if they knew how little I actually remember my husband- the man I wake up next to every day. How quickly the memories of my growing son fade, then perhaps they would realize that the way they touched my life and shaped me is not measured by my analytical memory of them. Nor is my love for them.


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