Has Anyone Seen My Memory?

April 20th, 2009

I know I put it down around here somewhere

I’ve been very worried lately about how I can’t seem to remember anything–it’s like I think of something I should do  or say and then it just disappears.  Not to mention all the appointments I miss and the phone calls I never return.  I’m always terrified these are signs of impending dementia. 

I mentioned this to my sister who told me she had gone to see a neurologist about the exact same problem.   After running a battery of tests on her, he concluded that there was nothing wrong, that her memory functioned normally for her age and busy lifestyle.   He did, however, have some advice for her: “Buy a notebook,” he said, “and write down everything you want to keep track of.”

After ruefully pointing out to me that this little bit of advice had cost her thousands of dollars in medical bills, my sister generously told me I could share it for free.   So the next day I went out and bought an adorable little chartreuse Moleskin notebook.  I figured out a system: every day, I would slide the notebook into the backpocket of my jeans, and whenever I needed to remember something, I would jot it down.  At the end of the day, I would take the notebook out of the pocket and copy over any of the information I needed immediately, then I would leave the notebook on my night table so the next day I could slide it into a clean pair of pants.  It would become a movable, writeable, holdable brain.  No more searching through all the receipts in my purse to find a phone number, no more forgetting that brilliant plot twist I had come up with in the car.  Nope: the notebook would take care of all of that.

The first day, it worked great.  I took my notebook with me, I used it, and at night I plopped it on the night table.

And the next day, I forgot to put it back in my pocket. 

In fact, I’ve forgotten to take the notebook with me all but about two days out of the six weeks that I’ve owned it.

I need a memory system to help me remember my new memory system.

It’s funny but it’s not.   It’s yet another frustration in the great Claire-has-no-memory story I call my life.  

I’ve learned to say “It’s nice to see you” rather than “It’s nice to meet you” to people because so often when I’ve said the latter, the person has said flatly, “We’ve met before.  Several times.”  I’ve tried to explain that the fact I didn’t remember them from previous encounters has nothing to do with a lack of personality on their part and everything to do with my stupid, worthless memory–but people like to be remembered and are hurt when they’re not.  

I’ll read an entire article in the newspaper and try to tell a friend about it.  This is what that attempt sounds like: “Did you see that piece about that guy who was married to a woman who was from some country–it was like India.  Or Afghan?  Wait, maybe it was in Africa.  Anyway, he’s the brother of that journalist who won a Pulitzer–or was it a Nobel?–for some piece he did about . . .  you know.  That big piece about that sculpture they did to commemorate . . .  Oh, shoot, what was it for?  Anyway, everyone was talking about it last year.  Or maybe it was two years ago. ”  And so on.  I don’t have gray matter.  I have gray soup.

In addition to not remembering  things I should, sometimes I remember things I shouldn’t.   I’ll tell a funny anecdote, and my husband will say, “That didn’t happen to you.  That happened to someone else and she told us that story.”   I guess all that empty space where my memories SHOULD be turns into a sort of vacuum that sucks in other people’s memories from time to time.

Actually, I think the real reason I can’t remember anything like orthodontist appointments and my kids’ weight or shoe sizes is that I filled up all my synapses with song lyrics at an early age.  Name a Sondheim song and I can tell you every word of it.  (I can’t sing it on-key, sadly.)  I can still recall the entire lyrics of “American Pie” which is not a short song but I can’t remember my husband’s social security number which is only 9 digits long, and which I’ve written hundreds of time in the last few years.

Most of my friends complain that their memories are also fading (although I have to say everyone seems to be doing a lot better than I am, but, then, I started in a worse place).  I can’t remember (of course) who told me this, but someone said the advantage to growing old with good friends is that you can keep telling them the same stories over and over again, because you won’t remember telling them and they won’t remember having heard them.  That’s kind of a happy thought, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, I have the notebook to fall back on.  I can’t remember where I put it and even if I find it, I won’t remember to take it with me, but other than that, it’s a lifesaver.

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