I sat on the floor of my closet inconsolably crying the day we put our family dog down. I was a little kid and it was my first real experience with death. Unfortunately, that tall, dark, scythe-carrying bastard Death-Dude has knocked on the door of my friends and loved ones way too many times in the years since. Even with all that experience, I’m not sure my brain deals with death the correct way. Hell. I’m not sure there is a best way. What I do know is, the way my brain works is both a blessing and a curse.
At 13 years-old, after my super-Jewy Barf Mitzvah, they told me I was a man. At 16 they crazily said I was mature enough to drive. At 18 they said I was an adult so I could responsibly vote and drink (heh, heh, heh). At 21 they said I was of legal age to do pretty much everything else on the Sgt. Friday side of the law-books. But even with “they” approving my passing of all these supposed growing-up milestones, it was only after years of real-life experience that I finally acquired an inkling of real wisdom and maturity. Nothing really prepared me for crisis, pain, death and all the other hard stuff that constantly slaps us humans around our entire life. Luckily, I’ve had a secret weapon, my memory. Or lack thereof.
Sure, I vividly recall the peaks and valleys. The elation of my first real sexual(esque) encounter, a wondrous junior high school aged trip to second base or the decades later night I laid eyes on my wife for the first time. But ingrained just as deep into my brain are things like my first real young adult heartbreak. At the time I was ill-prepared, totally gobsmacked and devastated at having my fanciful wide-eyed love, crushed with a pain that I didn’t know existed.
Life is an unstoppable speeding roller coaster of joy and pain. Though for me, the extreme ups and downs seem to level out and pass quicker than I think is normal. I don’t know for sure what goes on in other people’s heads, so all I can do is hypothesize about myself. Though it might sound strange, I believe my overly obsessive mind somehow found a way to shield and protect itself.
‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’ is the name of the country twang song on the flip side (those under 30 ask someone over 50 what that means) of Elvis Presley’s 1955 Sun recording 45-RPM of Mystery Train. I’ve often found myself singing the chorus to myself because it kinda describes a bit how twisty and turny my memory works. Why I can remember all the exact details of that record versus things like the date or age my brother passed away, is exactly what I am talking about.
I crisply recall some images and feelings, events and places, all sorts of ancient abstract details like they were yesterday. I used to believe it was random. I can tell you the way the furniture was arranged in my parent’s room when I was in a crib, but I can’t tell you the name of half the people I talked to on the phone yesterday.
I’ve cursed my bad memory. The massive extra work I had to do to pass school tests that my friends easily aced with a quick skim of a textbook. When a photo reminds me of a forgotten happy time, it only makes me think of how many like moments are seemingly lost forever. When my elderly Dad tells me an old story, I try to savor and save every detail, yet seconds later it’s gone. The other day I was complaining about this for the gazillionth time, when my wife simply replied, “there are benefits.” I scoffed at first, but she is right.
On every anniversary of a loved one’s death, my wife relives the shooting pain anew like it just happened. Yet my brain protects me; those days often sail by me unnoticed letting me go on with my life in a happily oblivious state. Maybe for every forgotten joyous moment tucked just out of reach in my muddled memory, is a recollection of despair, loneliness and anguish that I am being spared from reliving.
I imagine myself as doddering blissful elderly man, alone and isolated yet un-haunted by the pain of losing everyone I’d ever loved. It’s taken a great many years to get here but I think I have finally grown-up enough to understand that the memory limitations I’ve cursed since I was a kid, might not really be so bad.