Memory is funny. I can tell you my ex-husband’s and boss’ social security number. I can remember server passwords and ip addresses (though that is slipping a bit these days). I can remember the harmony for the songs we sang in high school choir. I can’t remember what my senior speech was in high school, though, and it took me weeks of research and writing. I don’t think I could calculate a standard deviation if my life counted on it, though I loved calculus. I don’t remember when we got our dog Lady as a kid and how long she lived.
Rich was telling me this morning that scent is the sense most connected with memory. I do know that Jergens lotion reminds me of evenings in my grandmother’s apartment and the glee of a coke in a glass bottle or Breyer’s ice cream. There’s a particular version of Speedstick deodorant that reminds me of the crush I had on a boy in high school. (Said boy is now my Facebook friend. Life is funny.) My ex-husband Jeremy is allergic to preservatives and a side effect was his sneezes smelled like a musty old attic. I can distinctly remember that smell even though I can barely remember the five years we were together.
I’ve been a sensitive soul my whole life. It’s why I don’t do well with being fussed at because I remember it forever. My father fussed at me once when I was about five for messing with his neck harness while he was stressed out and bustling around the house. It still makes my stomach hurt to think about it now. My old boss Harry fussed at me once for talking to my father on the phone while at work and it was at least five years before that memory faded enough I could think about it without getting red faced.
My sweetest memories are ones of late. Rich and I had a wonderful wedding, but one of my strongest and fondest memories was Gail telling me my brother Doug told her “my little sister is beautiful!” as I walked down the aisle. Doug didn’t talk to me during the wedding or reception that I recall, but it meant the world to me that my incredibly anxious brother made the five hour drive to our wedding and enjoyed himself.
I should remember the magic of first seeing my son as he was born but I most remember being incredibly thirsty while pushing for three hours and my mother telling the doctor “she’s the strongest person I know.”
This weekend, we’ve been in San Diego for a conference. The woman next to us on our incoming flight asked if we had been here before and I told her “yes, but I no idea when it was.” I later found out it was 2003, but it may as well have been someone else who went on that trip. Most of this trip I’ll probably forget as well as they run together with all the other conferences.
Now that we have Ian, I try to force memories to stick. I hold him while he’s nursing or snuggle up with him in the bed and tell myself “Remember. Remember. Remember.” When Rich and I manage a few moments of quiet together, I tell my brain to store it away so I can have it carry me to the next few moments. I count the scales on his dragon tattoo. I take a deep breath when the air is crisp with winter and we’re playing in the snow. I wonder what will be the first things Ian will remember.
My mother has said that it takes both she and Daddy to remember all the things they’ve done. Each of them remembers things and helps fill in the others. And Rich’s dad was recently lamenting that with the death of his last sibling Tommy he’s lost so much of his childhood and his parents that he couldn’t remember on his own.
We rarely get to choose what we want to remember. The brain works in mysterious ways. I wonder if it’s all in there for all of us and only some of us have the filing systems to be able to recall it. As a pack rat, I’d like to believe it’s all in there.