Living Out Loud 24: Total Recall

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Back on track this month with Genie's Living Out Loud, #24: Total Recall. Here's the question:

I'm curious what moments in your life are vivid. What are your personal snapshots where you could describe the scene down to everyone's wardrobe and the song on the radio? Was there a particular scent in the air? Was it hot or cold? When it was happening did you think it would be a moment you'd never forget or did your sharp memory surprise you? Do you generally trust your memory?

I don't have a particularly good memory, at least not for my own life. I'm excellent at remember song lyrics. I can remember the phone numbers of all of my high school friends. But that's where it ends. My autobiographical memory is pretty sketchy.

That said, there are snapshots. Little pieces of memory that come through clearly. Mostly, I remember clearly how I was using my senses, more than remembering the scenery. And I almost always remember the smell. I walked through a department store men's section once recently and smelled the cologne my first high school boyfriend wore. That took my directly back to that time, in a really sensory way. I could suddenly remember how this black bodysuit (remember those?) with a waffle pattern I wore at that time felt against my skin. I could remember the exact taste of Big Red chewing gum. I could remember the cool smoothness of the beads on a necklace he gave me. But that was it. No actual events. No conversations.

Another example, and the one that hits me most often, is the smell of wet rubber industrial flooring, like is found sometimes in the stairwells of office buildings. That smell puts me in the stairway of my dorm my first year at Reed, every time. I don't remember doing anything particular there, I don't remember conversations, or even the stress and insomnia I know I was feeling at the time. I remember the ways my other senses were being abused, though. I can taste clove cigarettes in my mouth when I smell that wet rubber smell. I can feel the way my stiff BDU pants hung on my bony hips. I sometimes instinctively shake my head when I this memory hits me, fully expecting droplets of rain water to spray out all around my hair.

Not all of these sense memory snapshots are pleasant. I was sick a lot as a kid, and had pneumonia several times. Every time I get sick in any way that constricts my breathing, I go right back to that time. Unfortunately, I don't remember the warmth of my blankets or the taste of hot soup--I remember the constriction of my chest, the fear of not being able to breathe before I had a good vocabulary to share that fear. I remember the incredible ache in my bones. The smell of Vicks Vapor Rub is suddenly in my nose, and it's all I can do not to gag.

I really wish I had more clear memories. It's part of the reason I am crazy about taking a lot of pictures of things--I'd like my memories to be a bit less fractured. And they fade so quickly. To remember Leo, to see his face in my mind, I have to concentrate. I can remember the roughness of his fur under my fingers very clearly, and can even come up with his not-very-pleasant odor pretty quickly, but to actually remember how he looked, or any specifics about what he did, I already have to try. The visual memories I have--of him or anything, really--are almost all like still pictures, not like movies. I think some people are really lucky to remember things more clearly.

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I also remember smells and sounds much better than visuals. It's so weird sometimes to feel like I just got smacked upside the head with the past, just by walking by someone with familiar cologne.

I have the same types of things happen. I will smell a certain smell and it will take me back instantly to my childhood. And certain times I can recall specific incidences with clarity, actual whole conversations but not anything else around that period of time. Really weird what our minds choose to remember and choose to forget.

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