15.11.10

Light the Corners of My Mind

When I was in LA last, I was out with Wilbur, walking our old neighborhood, and the smell of the trees at night reminded me of a very specific night right after I moved to LA.  A night I'd forgotten on a conscious level, but that was still there, buried beneath years' worth of detritus - dormant, but not dead.  I was driving out Sunset toward PCH.  It was one of the only drives I really knew by heart at that point and it's a beautiful drive.  At a light in the Palisades, I saw one of my high school boyfriends walking down the sidewalk. It surprised me because he was out of context.  He belonged to my high school life, and to see him like that really threw me, but I yelled his name - first and last - out the window. He ran up to my car and got in and I pulled down a sidestreet. We talked for a few minuites and then exchanged phone numbers. I drove him home and as we sat in my car in front of his house wih the windows down, having a few last words, the smell of the trees really struck me. He got out of the car. We both promised we'd get together soon. And I continued my drive out to the ocean and up to Malibu and then home again.

We never got together.  Last year, I heard that he had had a baby and gotten married.  Even though it made me think about him, I didn't think about the night in the Palisades.  It didn't even leave a glimmer of something unremembered in my head.  It wasn't until the walk and the smell of the trees that it burst into my brain in full color.

I sincerely wish we understood memory better. Understood how it works, mutates, doesn't work... Because sometimes I wonder how accurate my recollection really is.  It's all mutable, malleable - and who knows how well we recorded it in the first place.  Just look at witness statements.  Everyone remembers it a little (or a lot) differently.  Our senses are unreliable, our reality subjective.

As I get older, I find it's harder to remember the beginning of my life. I have memories, but I wonder how much they resemble the actual events anymore. Not that it really matters, I guess, but I do kind of wish I had some difininitive record somewhere so that when things get fuzzy, I could look them up - verify my mind, so to speak - especially when my memory clashes with someone else's.

I read somewhere (and now, ironically enough, I can't remember where) that we really only remember things once and then after that, we remember remembering it. I'm not sure if this is true or not. It's definitely an interesting idea.  It would be an explanation for why memories change over time.  It would also explain why the things we think about the most stay the clearest in our minds.  It could also mean that we could practice remembering - get really good at it.  It's a cool idea.

The really amazing thing to me, though, is that we have memories at all. The complexity of our brains is so great that it has the potential to have several million defects, but somehow it usually doesn't.  Somehow, most of the time, the pathways and synapses and receptors work the way they should and we remember how to walk and read and talk. We recall words and languages.  Images and objects get named and remembered.  Smells, tastes, colors are readily available when needed.  I can still name all of my classmates in school photos.

We can remember all kinds of things all the time, and yet I still can't always remember where I parked the goddamned car.  WTF, Memory?  WTF?

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