Saturday, May 10, 2008

Living with Memories

May 10, 2008

I saw a brief interview with Jill Price on Good Morning America in which she described having total recall of her whole life, revealing that her brain was being studied by doctors in California. The spot was in fact a promo for a segment that would air last night on the 20/20 broadcast.

I had to see that show. I have had something like Jill's affliction all my life too, and suspect there are many others of us out there. She stands out because she is unable to turn off the flood of memories, sometimes emotional, so much so that she lives with something "like a split-screen" in her head as her life goes on.

Most of us who have a lesser degree of this affliction have a little more control of it. My friends say, "You have a great memory," but it's more than that. I can relive incidents -- that is, seemingly return to them -- at will; however, for survival I seldom do. In Mrs. Price's case, she can recall dates, times, and vividly, to the point of knowing what she was wearing, what furniture was in the room, all the people present, all the little details of every hour of every day of her life.

That this is a curse is putting it mildly. I have checked out comments on the Internet to the news stories about her, and they break about half and half of those who feel they have something like the same ability and those who think it's impossible and some sort of hoax.

In my case, I learned years ago how to be judicious in revealing the many useless nuggets that fill my mind. I do not have memory of dates, but incidents and scenes that I observed yet in which I was sometimes not even peripherally involved. I might run into someone I knew slightly as a child and remember his birthday. If there is any purpose, I might find a way to work that into the conversation -- knowing a fact like that about a person can be flattering. To me it's just one of many things I might remember about that person, some of which I know to keep to myself. I wrote a book of memories; several people said that what I had written never happened, because the incidents in which they were involved were so slight and inconsequential in their minds that they had long dropped out of memory's range. Why I remembered them I cannot know.

The only surprise to me is when my memory has it wrong. I feel I can remember every movie I ever saw, from beginning to end, but sometimes (as in The Planet of the Apes post of yesterday) I find that my mind had altered a scene or two somewhat, and there were huge chunks of the film that dropped out completely. Sometimes I'll have an old flick on the tv that I recall vaguely having seen before and suddenly a whole scene will happen in which I know all the upcoming dialogue in advance of hearing it, and can say it along with the actors.

Every once in a while somebody will remind me of an incident that has completely slipped my mind. My daughter surprised me a few months ago by saying, "Mom, do you remember Genroko Sushi?" Without hesitation, I said, "No." Then she said, "That's one of my treasured childhood memories, that restaurant with with conveyor belt," and it came back to me. I was a single mom in Manhattan, and she was a little girl. I found this unique restaurant, on Madison Avenue near the rear entrance of B. Altman's, that served Japanese food on at a counter, the customers picking up their order as it passed them on a moving belt. We had many delightful Saturday lunches there.

On one hand, it's a point of pride that I can remember at least almost everything. On the other, I'm always a little pleased when I don't remember something. It makes me feel more normal.


Anonymous said...

It was Genroku, not Genroko, Sushi.

-- guess who

Mary Lois said...

Oops. Well, as I said, I don't remember everything. Actually I think the restaurant was on Fifth, near the front on Altman's instead of Madison, near the back, where I said.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Fifth.

Anonymous said...

My memory's not so good as yours but still pretty fair. When my friends remark about my good memory, I answer, "It's not that I have a good memory; I just have trouble forgetting things."