A Personal History of Remembering and Forgetting
by Maria Ilona Moore
- You are a child and, right now, you remember everything. You remember your best friends’ favourite colours and the names of all their pets. You remember a particularly yummy meal you had last year on a school trip. You remember the intricacies of imaginary stories constructed over lunchtime. One night at a sleepover, you and your friend recite the entire dialogue from your favourite film, just because you can. You are frustrated when anyone forgets anything – the day of the week, the name of your friend, your preferred seat at the kitchen table. You don’t yet understand forgetting as a consequence of time passing, you see it as not caring. Remembering something lights a little fire in you, and forgetting feels like a failure. But gradually the way you think about remembering begins to change. For the first time, remembering the sting of a grazed knee while crossing a crowded playground or the heat in your face after getting a question wrong makes you think twice. Things slow down and you don’t charge at life with the same confidence. You start to think forgetting might have its benefits.
- You are a moody teenager studying for your exams. You try to make space for lines from William Blake poems and Shakespeare plays amidst the chaos in your brain. You try to slot recurring themes and significant dates in between unrequited crushes and feeling misunderstood. Sticky notes cover your bedroom door, the bathroom mirror, the inside of your wardrobe; you live surrounded by facts. You use mnemonics, you use repetition, you try to really learn what you read. The name of your best friend’s dog slips from grasp, her favourite colour doesn’t seem so important now. The only thing that matters is getting through this set of exams, and getting through this whirlwind of hormones and angst. You sit in the school hall, individual tables lined one behind the other, and your mind empties. You’re angry at yourself. You’re angry at your brain for not letting you remember what you needed, when it seems to come so easy to others. Your moodiness envelopes you, stakes a claim within you. You wonder at the distance between you and your parents; how easily they seem to have forgotten what it’s like to be here.
- The exams are long done and the information you spent so long revising trickles away as if it was never there. A few stray facts remain – the useless ones, inevitably. You nag at these chosen details, what made them stick? You will come back to this thought again and again. What makes a memory worth remembering? For a while you remember your timetable, remember the names and faces of all your teachers, remember who you sat next to and in which class. But then new timetables and teachers and a life outside the classroom replace them. Things don’t seem as clear as they once did, but you are still frustrated by people who forget. You continue to mistake forgetfulness for not caring. You eat blueberries and do crosswords because you read somewhere that it helps.
“What makes a memory worth remembering?”
- You are in your mid-twenties, or is it late twenties, and you forget things daily. It can only get worse, you think to yourself. By now, you’ve faded from the mind of someone you love. The fear of forgetting and being forgotten feels much more real. A friend tells you a story from school that is, apparently, significant to your friendship, but your mind is blank. No vague impression of familiarity, but truly blank. You mistake your forgetfulness for not being a good friend. It happens with smaller things too. You stop straightening your hair so that you will stop forgetting whether you turned the straighteners off. Words are always on the tip of your tongue, but sometimes they’re not the right one. You forget names of people you work with every day, look them up in the office directory and begin the process again. Tiredness and stress and city life fray your memories; it becomes harder to connect the dots that used to come so readily. You worry that you’re too young for this. You worry about what comes next. You worry about your parents. Worrying makes it worse.
- You are older now. Wiser in some ways, but not in the ways you expected. Age is faster than you want it to be, it creeps up on you in peculiar ways. Memories wear thin, then disappear completely. A new one forms, an old one is lost to make room. More are lost than are created. You try to hold on to the special memories. You recall and repeat to keep them vivid, keep them real. You tend to moments in time like they’re plants. You embellish with photographs and other people’s memories when gaps appear. Your children are moody teenagers. You wonder at the distance between you and try to remember what it feels like to be there. You forget the names of their friends. You no longer confuse forgetfulness and carelessness. Forgetting is a consequence of time passing. Sometimes it scares you, sometimes you welcome it. You still eat blueberries and you do a crossword every day.