March 2, 2018


My memory used to be phenomenal.  The kind of eerily good recall that makes people give you nicknames and make jokes about it.  Once I had a professor tell me it was partially photographic, but I don't believe this because I can never recall the license tags and 1-800 numbers on the backs of commercial trucks that piss me off on the highway, and by the time I get to a phone to call someone and complain, even though I've recited the number over and over again, it goes missing.  It's like when you can't remember any good jokes you've heard.

The mutant memory would help me in my jobs.  I could always remember, to the very day, when some annual report was completed the previous year and was coming due, and one boss used to shout across the hall to me for phone numbers and six-figure amounts on complicated tax forms, rather than look them up himself.  I was a total enabler.

I'm a synaesthete.  I have the most common form, where each letter and number has a hard-set associated color.  "A" has been red and "R" has been purple and "7" has been green since I was three years old.  There are strands of bleed-over into colored music and sounds and a few smells, but it's mainly the language centers, and synaesthesia is an incredibly useful adjunct to memory.  It happens on its own and always has.  Strings of letters and numbers take on dominant and secondary coloration.  This means I spell like a champion and have turned into a Grammar Nazi, correcting every little thing I see.  It's not exactly attractive in a person.

Even now that I'm 40 and age has taken some of the sharper bits and eroded them, I still catch grief from my co-workers on the help desk for having a good memory.  I don't have to look up certain codes or information; they're just in my brain, there with their pretty colors.  But now the jokes make me wince, when no one is looking, because they have no idea what it was like before the mood stabilizers stripped away my ability to depend on my memory.  If a med is going to shut down the part of your brain that is trying to kill you, it does what it's designed to do, and there's collateral damage along the way.

I have to write things down now.  This is brand new to me.  I do it because I can still recite codes and phone numbers but now I sometimes forget to pick up my kid at school or an important person's birthday or to pay a bill.  It's foreign and I shouldn't have to do it and it makes me angry with myself.  My memory is no longer dependable.  I use Google Calendar and pill containers.  I forget why I went into a room.

It also makes me want to go mushroom-cloud on people who try to make me feel better about it by saying, "Hey, this means you're just like the rest of us now!"  Ha ha ha.  Ha ha.  Oh dear, I seem to have used a chainsaw to hack off both of your legs.  Terribly sorry about that.  I'll get a towel for the blood.  Hey, at least you can empathize with paraplegic people now!  Ha ha.

The memory issues do not interact in any way with my otherwise robust sense of humor.  Ha ha.

The one realm the meds and the aging don't seem to have touched is sleep.  My whole sleep life, including naps, is interwoven with ingrained memory.

I used to watch Doctor Who with my daddy when I was four.  I would lie on the carpet in front of our little black and white TV, propped up on my elbows, and he would be over on the couch, and we would turn the station to PBS and watch.  I always fell asleep just before Tom Baker made his lucky escape in the Tardis, and my daddy would come over to the TV and turn the station so he could watch The Jeffersons.  I would wake up when the episode was over and the credits were rolling, and Ja'net Dubois was humming her slow, soulful take on "Movin' On Up," and I would rub my eyes and my daddy would tell me to go up to bed.

I don't know how long we had that ritual, but to this day, when I wake from sleep, I hear Ja'net Dubois' voice humming that song.  Every morning.  And after every nap.  For thirty-five years.

There's also the voice of one of my sisters criticizing me harshly for napping.  It happened one of the many days when I was thirteen and stuck in the tar pit of depression, when I would come home from school and take a nap, from exhaustion, and to escape.  I have samples of her commenting on everything from my hair and my clothes to how I arranged my bedroom, but the afternoon she came into my room and woke me and called me lazy for napping seems to be written in indelible ink somewhere.  I have her to thank for the fact that I cannot nap without waking up and hearing her voice, cutting in over the sound track of humming.  I wake feeling guilty and ashamed for no reason and it stays with me for hours.  I've never been able to fully enjoy the wonderful, near-perfect thing that is a nap.  I only take them when I must.  They come with a cost.

I haven't spoken to her, or any of my sisters, for eleven years and counting, ever since coming out.  She looks like Michelle Pfeiffer and she ruined naps.  I don't miss a fucking thing.

I still have my memory to help me fall asleep, too, though the A-Team meds usually render everything unnecessary except being horizontal.  When I'm hypomanic and I want to fall asleep and my brain has other plans and wants to draw megaplex blueprints and have imaginary conversations with people that turn out twenty-six subtly different ways, I recite poems to shut it up.  I usually recite The Raven, which I memorized when I was thirteen because it was the longest poem I could find and my depression found the darkened depths of Poe appealing.  I never get to the end.  If I do, I know I have bigger problems and give up trying to sleep.  Occasionally, I'll swap The Raven out for Ogden Nash's Very Like a Whale, my personal favorite.  My brain has come to associate these two poems with falling asleep, so they've become a self-fulfilling magic spell.

A lot of my therapy is focused on processing memories that aren't stored so much as chiseled in stone.  Modification and softening the effects of traumatic memories is an arduous undertaking.  Therapist Gumby has thus far proven to have a remarkable arsenal for smoothing out the etchings.  When your memory is a steel trap, it ensnares the bad and good and neutral bits of life, whatever comes along.  Some are for enjoyment and enrichment, like movies that I can play back in my mind at will, just by closing my eyes.  Some comprise minutiae.  Some haunt.  We go to the haunted places.

The truth is, excepting a few deep wounds that cry out for healing, I want to hold all of these, the rich and the mundane and the painful.  Together they are a clear record of most of my life, yin and yang, darkness and light.  They tell me I am alive.

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