September 30, 2012 § 2 Comments
I was talking with friends from college a few weeks ago about our summer in Smithfield, NC. We worked with farm workers. Some of us worked in day cares, some in health clinics. Jeff actually picked some tobacco. We slept together in big camp-like rooms, twenty or so single beds, piled in like puppies. Looking at photos of our round, idealistic faces, I didn’t really recognize my own. Was my face that fat? That young? That memory had been photo shopped in my brain. The real problem though, was that there were stories told that night that people would finish with “Remember that?” But I simply did not remember. I remembered the feelings, the friendship, a few key events, but not the details.
I know there are things everyone forgets from college, certainly things I do remember that I’d like to forget, but this is different. There are hunks of my own college years, my childhood, and hunks of my children’s childhoods that I have forgotten too. A friend of mine says that if you go through trauma, your memory skills can be damaged, not just repressed. Another friend, whose mother died when she was young, has few memories of her mother. When she visited me in North Carolina one summer, we went to the Eno River, and she (a city girl) would say things like, “I used to love the outdoors. I forgot that. I keep having an image of my mother swimming at the lake. I forgot that until now. She loved to swim. ” I didn’t really know how that was possible then, that depth of forgetting, but it makes sense now.
It’s not like dementia. I’m fine with the day to day, as much as anyone. It’s not even “mom-brain.” I remember all of my students’ names. I don’t put the milk in the cabinet like I did when my children were infants and I was sleep deprived. It is the evidence of my life that refuses to stay.
The more I need to connect to the past, the more I try to preserve it in stories or recall from my family’s pictures, the harder it is to remember. My sisters help some, of course, but they’ve forgotten things too, even Leigh Ann, who has an incredible memory. I remember the way it all felt, my life with my parents—that hovers around me all the time– but I want to recall what it looked like, sounded like; I want to remember who I am and who I came from, to store it safe forever in the deep folds of my brain.