On or Off

Old memories are…tricky.  They sit there, quietly, taking up barely any space at all until they do.  They have to stay small, I suppose, so as to make room for all the new ones you create every day.  How many memories are there, floating around in the average brain?  They’re all in there, packed away, not really doing anything beyond not leaving space for where you put your keys, until something wakes them up.  Then?  Damn – then they expand, hard and fast.  They take up all the space you have in your head.  They push all that stuff you thought was important right out of the way.  The task you were in the middle of, the birthday present you meant to buy, the grocery list – all gone.  The only thing you can think about is the memory.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a good memory or a bad one, either.  Whatever memory is the one that’s triggered gets to take the main stage.  Lights, camera, past-horror-of-that-ex-boyfriend-you-shouldn’t-have-started-dating-in-the-first-place action! You can change the speed with which it replays.  You can adjust the volume.  Sometimes you can adjust the camera angle.  There’s no skipping it, though.  It pauses itself whenever something really immediate comes up.  You need to take a work call from someone important, for example.  The memory will pause just long enough for you to talk through the topic as long as nothing IN the conversation triggers it again.  The minute you hang up the phone it’s back.  Oh, and sometimes related memories come along for the ride, just to make things interesting.  You might not even have known they were related – have no fear, you brain knows.  It has master powerful cross-referencing skills in there.  If that ex-boyfriend bought you a dress that was the color blue, and you also once were brought to tears by a blue lollypop falling on the floor, your brain will kindly bring the second memory along with the first.  Or, better yet, if you have a memory of a friend being suddenly unavailable one weekend, the same weekend your then boyfriend got called out of town, your brain will helpfully put those puzzle pieces together to help you realize that the two of them were having an affair behind your back.  Thanks, brain.  Thanks a lot.  Now, not all memories are bad.  The good ones can get extra attention some days, too.  When you’re sitting at a wedding and start reminiscing in your head about the day you got married, that’s pretty nice.  You can even sometimes push the less-awesome memories back into storage by calling up the good ones.  That’s a high-level skill, though, and not everyone is fully equipped to make that switch happen.  We keep all these memories, the good and the bad, and hold onto them for as long as we can.  We often don’t even realize we’re doing it.  They’re just there, sitting in storage until we want them.

Until they’re not.  I took my memory and its storage for granted for a long, long time.  I remember (ha – see what I did there) sitting with friends digging deep to see how far back we could remember real things that had happened to us in our childhoods.  Just for fun, because we could and because there wasn’t really anything else to do in the tiny little town where we grew up.  Now?  I would give just about anything to go back to those days.  Back when I could take my memory, and the memories of the people I care about, for granted.  Back when remembering the name of that obscure television show that featured a plane and a resort was something that we could guarantee someone in the room would be able to do.  I know now that remembering isn’t a given.  I know what it looks like to not be able to access that brain storage.

It’s my job to take care of them.  To help them navigate their day to day life. I take it seriously. There’s only so much I can do for them, and that’s hard.  They need to be reminded of everything – big things like who they are and why they’re here, and little things like zipping their zipper after they go to the bathroom.  Their storage compartments empty out so quickly.  No, that’s not right.  Their storage is full, or full enough, they just don’t have the tools they need to find the files on their own.  And their brains are just as cruel as mine and yours.  They get big downloads stuck on replay, whether they want to watch or not.  They get fixated on their past transgressions and those they witnessed far more often than they get those pleasant memories of young love.  I have to believe they have all of the same kinds of memories tucked into storage in there.  I think the negative stuff is just bigger, or bumpier, or filed higher up in the alphabet.  They lived their lives in a normal way for their first 40 years, right?  So, there must be a combination of good and bad in there, somewhere.  If only they could grab it and set it on repeat.

We don’t know why some of them switch off this way at 40.  Or, at least, I don’t know why.  No one is saying what the cause is, anyway.  Since we don’t know the cause it’s extra hard to practice prevention.  I have my theories, though. I work hard on my memory every day, and I force my kids and husband to do the same.  The way I see it, this is our best chance at surviving.  Our best chance of staying out here.  I don’t mind going in for work – I don’t want to end up trapped in there, or see the people I love switch off.  Head down, memory flexed – that’s our motto.  For now.


* All 30-minute musings are fiction.  Any resemblance to people or events is strictly coincidental. *

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