Insufficient memory. Again.

Funny story: Earlier today, as I wrote myself notes and reminders and so on and so forth in the midst of a crazy-busy day, I thought of this column, which I wrote for the Dallas Morning News back in the day, and decided that I’d like to post it here.

Only to discover that I had done just that a little bit more than a year ago. And had, of course, entirely forgotten. Sigh.

As I said then: The fact is that — resist the truth as I might — I am an irredeemable birdbrain. No, you read the following (about which very little has changed in the intervening years, other than the girl’s need for a binky), and then try to think otherwise of me. I challenge you.

(It's forget-me-nots. Get it? Plus: So pretty!)

Insufficient memory

Recently, I was forced to come to the conclusion that, deny it as I have tried my whole life, I am, inarguably, an airhead.

Ok, I’m an intellectual snob, too, so let’s call me “absent-minded.” Like a professor, only without a teaching position. Or office hours.

I may approach it with humor, but it’s a truth I actually loathe. I’ve spent my life devising and maintaining systems by which to mask the fact of it (from myself primarily, I guess. The world’s probably caught on).

I’ve tried everything from calendars with copious notes, to lists on the door, to (and I mean this literally) keeping a running total in my head of the things I left the house with, so that I don’t leave anything behind. It can become a bit of a mess if I leave the house with something that was intended to be left behind. Like, you know, the dry cleaning.

And yet, in spite of these efforts, I am always forgetting things – objects, plans, dates. Thank God, I have yet to forget people, but my (two) children know I may forget their names. When my son was three years old, if I posed the question “What would Mommy do if she could take her head off?” he would say: “Lose it.”

I will say that, at the very least, this forgetfulness has granted me a deep faith in people. I’ve left my backpack in a cab in Istanbul, my camera in a store in Tel Aviv, and (my personal favorite) my sister-in-law’s pearls in a taxi in Washington, DC. Around the world, people have consistently saved me from myself and returned these items to me, often going out of their way to do so. The kindness of strangers, indeed.

On a recent morning, a stranger – a county official with whom I had an appointment in order to appeal my property taxes, a date you might think I’d want to keep – called to ask where I was. Not to reprimand me for blowing her off, but to suggest with a smile in her voice that perhaps I should make my way down to her offices.

Then, on the way there, I drove nine blocks the wrong direction, because, after living in my town for more than seven years – five of which were spent three blocks up from the address to which I was headed on the same street – I got confused about where the north/south demarcation starts on our grid.

As I started to compose the “I’m so sorry for being even later” in my head, I heard myself thinking “I don’t want to seem so disorganized,” and it hit me: I am. I am just that disorganized.

Anyone who has ever: had her babysitter look for her wallet so that she can get on a plane; left that same wallet at home on her way to a store 40 minutes away; forgotten her debit card in the hands of the gas station attendant, is a complete space-cadet. Bona fide.

When I became pregnant with my son seven years ago, having just moved to a new place, new friends kindly chalked my muddle-headedness up to pregnancy, and then to post-partum, and then to exhaustion. And then a second pregnancy. With two kids running around the house, they now say, who can remember anything? You lose a piece of your brain with each placenta.

I’m happy to leave them their delusions, and I will certainly concede that all of those things have not helped. I will even admit, with some genuine pride, that when it comes to the kids, I’m mostly on top of who needs what and has to go where (even if I don’t, as I say, reliably remember what we’ve called them). It’s my own stuff that goes missing.

Seriously, I take some comfort from that. Because there are days when it feels like all of this means that really, underneath my carefully constructed façade, I’m out of control. One misplaced piece of paper from the unraveling of my entire life.

But if I can keep it together for my children – old What’s-Their-Names – I figure that will have to be enough. Just admit the truth, accept who you are, and move on. I can make it without my coat; my daughter, on the other hand, would be lost without her binky.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living outside of Chicago. As far as she can remember.

7 Comments

  1. Dex

     /  April 12, 2012

    I can empathize with this, as I’m the epitome of the absent-minded professor. I’m okay about making and keeping specific appointments, but those vague, promise-y things are like my kryptonite: “Sure, let’s get together in the next few weeks!” or “I’m going to get this paper finished and off to the journal in ten days.” almost invariably stretch out to several months. In general, I’m really good with concrete deadlines, but without a deadline, I’ll let it stretch way out. The more stressed and tired I get, the worse it all gets. These days, it’s pretty fricking terrible.

    The worst thing for me is that I’m constantly misplacing things. Bless my dear wife, as she has a near-photographic memory (e.g., she never uses bookmarks; she just glances at the page number before closing the book and can return there, even weeks later, without forgetting), but she doesn’t complain. It’s actually sort of funny to watch from the other side: if she ever forgets or loses something herself, she’s completely traumatized and dumbfounded at how she could ever do that. Me, I’m almost excited if I get through the day without forgetting or misplacing something.

    In this way, two things have immeasurably improved my life: a smartphone and decluttering/organizing routines. I’d give up my car or cable tv (actually, we just canceled that last week) before getting rid of my smartphone. I’m not great by any stretch, but I’m a lot better than I used to be.

    • I’m almost excited if I get through the day without forgetting or misplacing something.

      This.

      If I get through a day having only forgotten one thing, and it doesn’t involve messing up the childrens’ lives? I count that as a win.

  2. helensprogeny

     /  April 12, 2012

    Oh, honey! I hate to be the one to break it to you, but menopause lies ahead, making muddleheaded forgetters out of even the most organized amongst us. Some days I can’t even remember that I’ve forgotten things.

    My partner, who is now 60, is just entering the land of forgetful confusion. We were in the car the other day and had a whole insane conversation about how I had told him some weeks ago that my brother had taken a job in a bank. I remembered no such conversation; P insisted it had occurred and described it in detail – where we were sitting when it happened, what I’d said, etc. Meanwhile, in real life, nothing could be farther from the truth. My brother has never even once thought about working in a bank, in any capacity. There was absolutely no way I would ever had told Partner that my brother was working in a bank.

    It was incredibly disorienting and I genuinely thought one of us must be in very serious peril of losing touch with reality altogether. It was kind of terrifying, actually. This is what the onset of Alzheimer’s must be like, I think.

    After some minutes of discussion, I suddenly remembered that I *had* had a conversation about a bank, that my friend D had in fact taken a job in a bank. The confusion had apparently flowed from the fact that D is the same age and in roughly the same location as my brother and had in fact functioned as a surrogate brother in the years during which my brother and I were estranged. Partner, who was kind of in “that’s nice, dear” mode when we had the conversation, had somehow substituted the actual brother for the surrogate brother. So in the end, neither of us was crazy, all was well. We both felt kind of stupid, he for his small confusion, me for my inability to remember the conversation. But, man, I don’t want to do that again soon. It was fucked.

  3. caoil

     /  April 12, 2012

    I, too, am a Bear Of Very Little Brain. With a multitude of tricks to get me through the day without losing everything vital.

    • Dex

       /  April 12, 2012

      *stands up, pats pockets*
      Mutters to himself, “Phone, wallet, keys. Phone, wallet, keys.”

      • caoil

         /  April 12, 2012

        Keeping everything in exactly the same spot every day (phone remains in coat pocket; keys immediately go in messenger bag pocket, book on shelf) helps a lot. I make a fair number of post-it note lists. I used to have a post-it at the front door with all the bits and pieces noted that I should have on me when I leave. Then, too, there are the lists of things to do, and more recently, lists of things to look up on the internet (if I don’t write them down, they’re gone).

        • Dex

           /  April 12, 2012

          Routine is key for me as well. I’ve gone 99% paperless at my job, which means that everything goes to the cloud and I can access it online using my phone or computer. I had to bring home a few post-it notes from work yesterday and was struck by how infrequently I put anything important on paper these days.