Memory is such a fickle creature. My mother used to marvel at her grandmother’s ability to tell you details from sixty years ago but couldn’t remember what she had for breakfast. Now it’s my mother who can recall the smallest things from her childhood but can’t remember why she walked upstairs to the back craft room. I’ll be honest; losing my memory is one of my greatest fears. The thought of waking up and not remembering my husband’s name, where I live, or who I am when I look in a mirror terrifies me. When you think about it, your memories are what make up you. It’s your history and your story that you tell to other people. Your memories form how you perceive the world and your place in it. Losing your memories is losing yourself. I’ve never been good at remembering things. I admit that I tend to forget where I put things. I forget to message or call people even if I write it down (I forget to check that I wrote it down). I forget that I put dinosaur chicken nuggets in the waffle iron for the toddler (it’s a miracle I haven’t burned the house down). As a kid in school I always forgot about tests, projects, homework, and field trips. My parents would say, “Write it down.” And I would. But then I would forget where I wrote it down or I would leave the book where I didn’t need it. If I needed it at home it was at school. If I needed my reminder book at school, it was at home. I started writing things on my hands, arms, jeans and shoes. One teacher would whistle “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” when I walked by his class. One time I showed up to a concert practice one time without my violin. I remembered I had to go an hour out of my way on the bus to get to the practice but forgot the main reason why I was there. It’s amazing that I have survived and am raising two kids.
My guardian angel must do double face palms on a daily basis. “She forgot the nuggets again? What is she doing?” “Well, it seems she got involved in a math problem with the older one.” “She’s going to burn the house down. Alert the toddler to remind her that they’re done until she hears him and gets up. And make sure he moves out of the way this time. We don’t need her knocking him down again as she makes the mad dash to save lunch.”
It’s bad enough having a phobia. When you see a spider it creeps you out. A clown comes and sits next to you and you’re doing everything possible not to cry in front of your kids. I think clowns live off the tears of children and adult tears are their whipped cream and cherry on top. But when someone uses that phobia against you, well that’s pretty horrible. Couple that with being in a relationship with a person who uses your fear against you and you’ve got a recipe for disaster (and my first book You can buy your copy here.). My ex used my forgetfulness against me. He would say or do things and then change the facts of what happened. He did this in front of other people to give credence to his story. He was telling a story to his family one Thanksgiving. “So, Jen and I were out on the lake and these two guys pulled up next to us…” I had to interrupt him, “No, no one pulled up next to us. In fact, there was no one on the water that day.” “No, two guys were in the little rowboat,” he said as he rolled his eyes. Turning to his mother he said, “She does this all the time.” “I really don’t remember a boat let alone two guys.” “You know this is getting bad. Maybe we should get you checked out for early onset Alzheimer’s.”
That word. Alzheimer’s. He knew how scary that was. He might as well put a clown mask on, waited until I was in the shower, turned the lights off, and burst in the bathroom screaming and swinging a knife.
He mentioned so many times about getting me tested. We talked about insurance and what doctor I could go see. When I would get set to make an appointment he always had an excuse for why I shouldn’t or couldn’t go. Too expensive, insurance wouldn’t cover it, that doctor’s not in our network. I think he knew the tests would come back normal. That would uncover his patterns of abuse. He couldn’t have that happen so he kept me from making the appointments. All the while he was still changing the stories that we talked about. “So, I was over at Fred and Wilma’s last week…” “You told me you were at Bill’s watching a Battlestar Galactica marathon.” “No, I said Fred and Wilma. You never listen to me.” “But you took season one on DVD with you. Wilma hates sci fi.” “Why are you arguing about this? Why are you trying to start a fight? You know you have memory issues. You’re going to wake up one day and not even know who you are. You’re lucky you take the right kid home from daycare as it is. One day you’re going to drive to the wrong house.” It all scared me. Not knowing if he was right. Always doubting myself. It’s scary not being able to trust your own mind. That’s supposed to be a safe place. Mine was a toxic waste dump with blank spots and black holes all through it like Swiss cheese.
I stayed in that relationship for thirteen years. If he hadn’t moved on to a new victim I would still be in it. I never said I was smart. It’s been four years since he kicked me out and I still have memories I’m trying to get back. I’ve made it part of my therapy to try and comb through the weeds and find the truth. For the record, there were no two guys in a boat. That I do remember.
I think because of that relationship I do what I can to make and keep memories. I look in my kids’ eyes, touch their faces, and smell their hair. I take a stupid amount of pictures of the most mundane things.
I take time to savor my food. Remember, Mama didn’t get fat by not eating. I am a flavor loving gal and I take my time to enjoy it as much as possible. This past June, I got to go home for the first time in five years. I made sure to sit back and log away as many memories as possible. I wanted to keep the images of my kids hugging my parents for as long as possible. I want to be an old lady in the nursing home telling my grandchildren about how their dad jumped off their great grandmother’s couch and almost landed on her cat. I want to see the look on my daughter’s face when I talk about her making meatballs with my dad. “Oh Mom, not this story again.” “It’s one of my favorites and I’ll tell it as often as I please, thank you.”
I don’t have any specific memory that I’m grateful for. The fact that I can remember anything is what I’m grateful for. I am thankful for the memories im fighting to get back. I’m grateful for the bad memories because I remember them I’m able to recognize my mistakes and not do it again. Because of the memories of what I had been through I was able to share my story with other people and help them end their cycles of abuse. I’m thankful for the memories I never lost. And I’m thankful for the memories I haven’t made yet. I look forward to sitting around with my family, looking at pictures and videos of family trips and holidays.
I love hearing my children laugh when we talk about our trips to Springfield, Branson, and Disney World. We already laugh about my son’s weird obsession with black, plastic spoons and how we handed him twenty six of them to keep him calm at Disney World. I love talking with my friends about the good old days and how stupid we were. It’s good to have friends who knew you when you were young and stupid and childless. Just don’t let them talk to you kids. You’ll never live any of what gets said down. It’s good to have friends who remember what you used to be like and are still friends with you despite your past relationships and estrangements. Of my five closest friends my oldest relationship is thirty years old. The youngest is eleven. I chose who I make memories with carefully. I’d rather have five twenty dollar friends than twenty five dollar friends. Friends are the keepers of our history because they helped make most of it. I am grateful for my ability to remember.
Homeschooling my teenager is putting to test my memory of anything I learned in high school I am still grateful for it. I’m building my memory and knowledge every day. I think that’s the key to keeping a good memory: developing a sharp mind. Use it or lose it my mom would say. That’s why I read. A lot. Thirty minutes a day. That’s a book a month. If you read one book a month in a chosen subject in five years you would be among the top one percent of experts in that field. Definitely worth working on your memory for that kind of prestige. What could you do if you were a top one percent expert in your field? Being an expert requires a good memory so get to developing yours. And your expertise. And while you’re strengthening your memory don’t forget to make new ones. Take the time to appreciate the moment because today’s moment becomes tomorrow’s memories.
So bake the cookies with your kids, tell stories, and share memories of your parents and grandparents with your kids. Keep them alive in your memories. Become immortal by sharing your memories with your kids. Keep your memories alive by making new ones and sharing old ones. And be grateful for the memories you have. I am grateful for mine.