I was going through a box of old personal effects the other night, and discovered something disturbing: There is a lot about my life that I don’t remember.
There are ticket stubs, programs, wristbands and paraphernalia for events I’ve been to, but… can’t picture a second from.
Old journals, work papers, to do lists and things I’ve written with my own hand, but… can’t remember why or even what they’re a reference to.
There are people who were clearly a part of my life at some point, and yet… I can’t picture their face, or even recall a last name.
Even the things we’re *supposed* to hold sacred have seemingly escaped me — like, the first high school prom. I can remember when prom was the only thing girls and 1980’s film producers cared about, but today … Well, I know I went, and don’t remember much about other than that. The “facts” are still there — I was 15 and a freshman, only going because my boyfriend was a junior (whooo scandalous). I remember feeling awkwardly conspicuous around all the older kids, and at one point, spilling a drink on my dress… but that memory and any other is just a blink in an otherwise black void.
Anyway, there are other things that even as an adult I don’t recall — work and studying that I spent hours and hours on, but couldn’t tell you a single detail beyond what’s written on the page. It’s maddening to think that hours, days, weeks of learning something just… disappears. If you don’t use it you lose it indeed.
Personally, though, I feel worst of all when I find things like this:
I know what this letter is a reference to, but I have no idea who it’s from. There are no Stephanie’s in my life today, yet apparently a few years ago, one knew me well enough (and cared enough) to reach out on a particularly sad occasion. [While I was in college, my best friend from high school was shot during an attempted robbery, and died on New Year's day in the hospital.]
For the most part, we like to think of ourselves as constants: one person, the same person, living a single life. Even if we aren’t always the “same” in every regard (everyone faces at least physical changes with age and if they’re lucky, getting wiser along the way), there’s an expectation of continuity. It’s disconcerting when some trigger unexpectedly causes us to feel like we’ve been split, as if looking back on our former “self” is not a “self” at all. “Who the hell was that?” we’ll wonder, silently or maybe to friends. Some of these reminders may make us wish we could time travel, perhaps go back and clean up the act of that “stranger” who made a mess of the past. But, that would be a self-perpetuating, self-defeating cycle. Every few years, we’d change our minds, have to go back and clean up the cleaner, and eventually wind up just … Not existing? Whoa I’m getting out a limb here.
The human mind has many qualities that we don’t quite yet understand, but the tendency to forget is probably adaptive. We “keep in mind” only those things which are important or relevant (although why Hit Me Baby One More Time song lyrics stick around is not entirely explainable). It keeps us focused. It keeps us sane. I probably shouldn’t remember every moment of high school prom, or even hard-learned information that (now) isn’t relevant.
Still, when I have to wonder who “Stephanie” is, I hate myself a little.