Full: Some Information May Be Lost
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
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: