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The Day I Stopped Trusting My Memory

“I don’t have time for this shit,” I grumbled to myself as I searched the apartment for my keys.

Moving piles of unopened mail around on the kitchen table, I felt the familiar pit in my stomach begin to grow.

“Why didn’t I put the keys on its porcelain dish as usual?” I chastised myself. “And why was this happening so often lately?”

Just last week, I went searching for my iPhone and found it in the freezer. In the freezer. Don’t even ask me how I did that because — guess what — I don’t remember.

Back in my years before Impending Cronehood, I had a remarkable memory — almost photographic. Dates, names, and intimate details were etched into my brain so clearly that I could recall them vividly, and I was often used as my friend’s journals, to be opened when their own recollections of the past grew hazy.

“Hey, Issa, what was the name of that guy I used to date our freshman year in college? You know, the one who was in that Ska band?”

“Godfrey. And it was a roots reggae band.”

“Yes! Godfrey! That’s right! Why did I ever leave him? He was so sweet!”

“He had a really tiny penis. You had to do Kegels in order to figure out if you were actually having sex.”

“Shit! That’s right! How could I forget that???”

Staring at him, trying to decide if perhaps boarding school was a better option for us both, I realized that maybe this whole “being forgetful” thing wasn’t age-related.

The first 40 years of my life were heavily peppered with scenes like that, bestowing upon me the unspoken title of “The Rememberer.” I was even cast in the role of someone actually called “The Rememberer” in a school play once; everyone responsible for the play was proud of their perfect casting. Now, at 44, though, I was finding it hard to trust my memory, and that shook my sense of self in ways that were both maddening and depressing. Lately, I had become the one seeking external jolts to my memory.

“Hey, Lucy, what was the name of that guy I used to date back in 1996? You know, the one who worked as a paralegal?”

“Mike. And he was a lawyer.”

“Yes! Mike! That’s right! Why did I ever leave him? He was so sweet!”

“He hated oral sex. You left him for a woman.”

“Shit! That’s right! How could I forget that???”

* * *

Finally finding my keys on my nightstand — a location where I had never before put them — I raced to my son’s school to pick him up on time. Upon arrival, I was met with my surly-looking child and I asked him what was wrong.

“You forgot about Family Friday today.”

“Dammit!” I shouted internally. Family Friday was the third Friday of every month and was when parents could go to school with their child for the first hour of the day. Most of the newly minted fifth graders were over it by now, but my boy still loved having me there with him. After apologizing to him, we went home, where I tried to focus on work while I simmered over my failure as a mother, certain in the belief that my missing Family Friday would be the thing that turned him into a deranged serial killer — or worse, a right-wing Conservative.

Later on that evening after meeting my deadlines, helping my child with fifth grade math that I didn’t even slightly understand, making dinner, and somehow not taking an entire bottle of Pinot Noir to the face through a straw, I noticed my son was still upset over my not showing up for him.

“I’m sorry I missed Family Friday today, kiddo. I’ve been under so much stress lately, it completely slipped my mind.”

“It’s ok,” he mumbled with a half-hearted shrug that betrayed his reply.

It wasn’t ok, though. What was happening to me? Was it my age? My stress level? How could I, the one person who remembered everything, be the kind of person who could forget something so important to my kid?

Determined to manage this liminal new space my memory was in, that very evening I went online and ordered chalkboard wallpaper. When it arrived, I cut off a huge piece and affixed it to the entrance wall in my kitchen. Using chalk to mark sections off — one each for my son, his nanny, and myself — I used the space to create a bulletin board of sorts, including taping his monthly school calendar to it with all of his important school functions.

“What’s that for?” my kid asked when I was done.

“It’s to help me not forget things like Family Friday again. I felt really bad that I missed it last time.”

“Oh. I forgot all about that, “ he replied, dismissively waving his hand.

Staring at him, trying to decide if perhaps boarding school was a better option for us both, I realized that maybe this whole “being forgetful” thing wasn’t age-related. Perhaps it was just stress! Perhaps I was still a vibrant, youthful woman in the prime of my life! Perhaps I wasn’t suffering from early-onset dementia after all! I mean, this kid is only 10 and he can barely remember a damn thing.

(Image: Isabella Giancarlo)

Filed under: Self


Issa Mas

Issa M. Mas is a freelance writer whose work has been featured on local news sites and, on the former (now, in the humor anthology, See Mom Run: Side-Splitting Essays from the World's Most Harried Moms, and the now-defunct award-winning blog Single Mama NYC, which was recognized as a Voice of the Year in the Identity Category by BlogHer. You can find Issa talking about race, mental health, and single parenting at @IssaMas.

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