The persistence of memory

I’ve always had a good memory, and by that I mean two things. I remember things in detail, farther back than most people, and I tend to remember more good things than bad. Looking back, I remember a much more pleasant life than I know took place. Of course I’m speaking of long term memory, when it comes to short term memory I often can’t recall breakfast.

I know memory is slippery, that we don’t always remember things the way they actually happened. For the most part, that’s a good thing. I can’t remember the last argument I had with my first wife, but I remember joking about the scratches on my face later that day. I can’t remember screaming when my last wife died, but the nurses were in the room immediately, they must have heard something.

I have several memories of childhood, earlier than most people accept as possible. Some of these remain bright and clear in my mind, others I recognize as being “memories of memories”, in that I can recall remembering the event, so I remember the event today, but I don’t actually have a picture of it in my mind.

I often wonder how other people remember shared experiences. I ran into a friend from High School a couple of years ago, when I asked how he was he said “Much better than in High School”. We had lived through years of partying and mischief, he, in particular, was a madman. I guess he wasn’t having as good of a time as he appeared to be having. Maybe pretending to be happy when you are not only adds to your misery.

I’m of the understanding that people do not remember those things which they do not wish to remember. I guess that explains how politicians get reelected, but how is it that they manage to raise the specter of previous administrations? There is a great deal of cognitive dissonance walking hand in hand with memory, and politics for that matter. There is always the “He was such a nice boy” comments after a mass murderer is captured, as an Animal Control officer I often dealt with people who were suddenly compassionate, after complaining about a vicious dog for weeks.

I understand the difference between having a bad memory and having selective memory (I’ve been divorced twice and have four children). My eldest son once told me that we had never done anything that he had wanted to do. Farther into the discussion I found that he had developed an interest in fishing and was upset that I hadn’t taken him fishing more often when he was a child. Actually, I had, but in his mind it wasn’t as memorable as he would expect it to be, as he was now very into fishing.

I’ve wondered if it would be better to be able to purposefully not remember. The bad times in my life are shadowed, but I can find them if I look. I wished for the longest time that I could forget the expression on my last wife’s face after her death, but now I just remember it differently, as a portrait of her strength. I remember her hand in mine, holding me tightly, when I know the fact to be that rigor mortis had set in and I had to peel her fingers open. I suppose that is the best definition of “good memory”, when we know both how we felt, and what was real.


2 comments on “The persistence of memory

  1. Very interesting and insightful. I find the line, ‘Maybe pretending to be happy when you are not only adds to your misery’ to be so accurate. Thank you for sharing.


  2. Such a strong, powerful ending.
    I’ve always had a good memory – except during times of extreme stress, then snatches of it disappear.


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