The Last Word

It’s not as inconsequential as forgetting to turn off the light in the kitchen before bed, or forgetting to turn on the dishwasher after it is filled. Nor is it as serious as not remembering your father’s birthday or forgetting to attend your best friend’s second wedding.

This is about my recent and more frequent ill excuse for not remembering many previously normal routines, the expectations people know to seek from me — the regular check-ins, the way I always brought this one dish to an event, asked a certain question, or scheduled a Sunday late afternoon walk.

And while I have never been good at remembering names, that facet of my memory is getting worse as well. Like one of those older characters in cartoons and TV shows who call everyone, “Dear,” I often draw a blank, even on the names of friends. I could be sitting next to a colleague I have worked with for 10 years on a flight to a conference and, by the time it comes to de-plane, I will not remember her name. Donna? Ann? Chris?

This increasingly frustrating lack of recall has made me into someone who is always apologizing. And the reason is often simply that I forgot — not crucial information like a password for my debit card or that my friend coming for dinner is deathly allergic to seafood. It is the minutiae that I can obviously do without that has seemingly evaporated from my brain.

Perhaps my letting more details fall by the wayside in recent years is because this information is no longer top-of-mind important. If it is not related to an imminent deadline or will not have a severe impact on someone, then I am subconsciously choosing not to retain it. My brain is tired.

I don’t need to remember to maintain certain rituals, or adhere to behaviors that no longer apply or feel relevant. Or maybe it is that my old habits simply are no longer useful; they do not fit this different stretch of long tail pandemic life all of us are enlisted in—and often against our wishes.

While it seems everyone has been touting a return to “normal,” foregoing the practices of masks and social distancing, the residual fears may not be completely gone. It’s quite possible the world — and all of us lucky enough to still be in it — may never be quite the same.

There are many details, events and images I want to forget — and have forgotten — over the past two years, whether they were painful, inconvenient or just unimportant. They no longer have the priority or urgency to take over my hippocampus and stake a permanent home. Sometimes we forget to keep a balance. I’m going with that theory.

We only have so much capacity to cope and to recreate our lives that have changed in so many ways. I know that I am more limited in what I expect of myself and what I expect of the world around me. Perhaps it is because I grow older each passing minute, or perhaps my forgetfulness is linked to a desire to jump into each new minute unencumbered by difficult memories.

I am self-editing. Deleting the tidbits that are not essential, paring down. Yes, I forgot to call someone back who needed an answer by Friday. I am sort of sorry.

This reminds me of the tearjerky song Barbra Streisand belted out in “The Way We Were,” the 1973 movie where she and Robert Redford seemed so ill suited. And yes, I did have to google the lyrics, because I forgot some of the words.

“Memories, may be beautiful and yet/ What’s too painful to remember/ We simply to choose to forget/ So it’s the laughter/ We will remember...”

But you remember the chorus, of course, we all do.

I was sharing my recent forgetfulness with my friend Julie who responded with a clinical quiz. “Are you forgetting where you put your keys? Or are you forgetting what keys are for?”

That keeps my temporary amnesia in perspective — there are no alarm bells to ring just yet on possibly much deeper and more serious health concerns. But I am vigilant.

The state of the world as we know it has shifted drastically recently, so it makes perfect sense that the state of my mind would be jilted.

Perhaps it is all making room for what will be a new normal, a new way of being in the world, bracing for the future without looking back.

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