Disk Full: Some Information May Be Lost

by Bryna Kranzler

It wasn't always like this. I used to be able to recite strings of fifteen-digit numbers backwards after hearing them only once. I could calculate mixed number-sales tax without a calculator, and instantly knew how every test score affected my GPA. I knew that my memory would begin to deteriorate at some point, but I never expected it to happen so soon, or so dramatically.

I ask my children the same questions over and over, as they repeatedly remind me, but I can't recall having heard their answers. I can't remember an address from the time I look it up until I write it down, and as soon as I finish a book, I forget its title. And yet I persist in trying to recall where I parked in a Disneyland-sized parking lot by remembering the color of the car that had been parked next to me. My boys have joked about pinning an index card listing my name, address and phone number to the inside of my jacket so that a sympathetic policeman could help me find my way home when I got lost or forgot where I was going.

My sensible solution was to carry a micro-cassette recorder so I could document thoughts that occurred to me in the car, like "buy scallions," "dry cleaner pickup," or "theater tickets," that I wouldn't remember by the next traffic light. That helped, but it also became a weapon that could be used against me.

On one occasion, while driving my son to Junior Assembly, I looked at him in the back seat and noticed that his arms and shoulders had outgrown his shirt, and that his pants were too short. I asked him to remind me that I needed to buy him new clothes. Never one to assume responsibility for my problems, he said, "Why don't you record a message to yourself?"

Then the traffic light changed. I caught another glimpse of him in the rear view mirror and asked him to remind me that we needed to buy new clothes. "You just said that ten seconds ago," he shrieked, but I didn't believe him. He told me to play back the last message on my voice recorder; indeed, no more than fifteen seconds had elapsed between the time I recorded the message and when the thought occurred to me anew. (The fact that I lost that tape recorder shortly thereafter had nothing to do with its role in incriminating me.)

My memory loss was so dramatic that I worried that it might be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease. My doctor asked me if I had been forgetting short-term or long-term information. "Short term," I said. "Information goes right through me without even stopping to take off its coat." She told me not to worry, using a phrase that has since become her catch-all for whatever ails me: "At your age that's perfectly normal."

I had thought "that age" was at least ten years off, although my friends, who are also in their mid to late forties, are experiencing it, too. Our minds are overwhelmed with our children's schedules, insurance and billing errors that need to be disputed, repair appointments, and invitations to which we still need to reply.

We even have an informal competition among ourselves: Each of us records the most pathetic example of memory failure we'd most recently experienced, and then we get together we compare notes. To avoid forgetting our examples, we've each developed creative mnemonic techniques, from keeping notes in our bras, to writing on the inside of our hands - the ultimate Palm Pilot. I'm pleased to report (though perhaps I shouldn't be) that I am still the undefeated champion.

I needed to find a way to accept my current state, and try to laugh about it. For one thing, my Swiss cheese memory has made me an excellent person in whom to confide. (There was another reason, but I can't remember it just now). Since I couldn't hide my condition, I announced it via a personalized license plate that reads, "IFORGOT."

Strangers who've spotted it have shared their own, worst examples of forgetfulness. One elderly man I met at the dry cleaners told me that, over fifty years earlier, he had proposed marriage to his then-girlfriend, who said that she needed to "think about it." When she called the next morning to say, "I accept," he had had no idea what she was talking about.

At least I'm not alone.

Bryna Kranzler is a writer living in Southern California. A graduate of Barnard College and Yale University, she is a winner of the Helen Prince Award for Excellence in Dramatic Writing and was a finalist in the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Competition. You can contact Bryna at: xsnerg@san.rr.com

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