I have a terrible memory. Luckily memories are a great source of hilarity. I’ve forgotten where my keys are! Hilarious. Oh no, again I’ve forgotten the number of the bus I’m due to hop on. What a ditz. It’d be “endearing” if it weren’t a massive strain on my day to day functioning. Yet it’s not because I daydream, or am haphazard. It’s because my brain just won’t work normally. See, I’m epileptic,which most people assume means I have massively dramatic fits and then move on. I do have dramatic fits, and end up in hospital on a tediously regular basis. But that’s less troubling.
When you watch a film, and it’s not being screened digitally, there’ll be a few inevitable moments in every film where you won’t see a scene. This is rarely important in a film. But for a lot of my life, the scenes where my brain stalls are numerous, and last a good few seconds. Imagine you’re watching Lost in Translation, and a few seconds aren’t screened, but you don’t even notice. Now imagine that happens 20-40 times a day, but you’ve no idea when it’s occurred. That’s my life. Yet hardly anyone notices.
Before my grandmother died, she suffered from Alzheimers. She didn’t just “have” Alzheimers, she genuinely suffered. She was aware that something was amiss, that her memory was playing tricks on her and hitting out at her relationship with her family. She’d regularly confuse my dad with her brother as she struggled to cope with grief and memory. Amongst the most harrowing moments of my life were the regular moments when she’d forget my grandfather had died, then remember as if for the first time. “Where’s Stan?” she’d ask, shortly followed by “He’s dead, isn’t he?”, realising the love of her life, who’d been ill for so long, had gone.
But she never forgot me, and that was something I clung to. Her memories were jumbled, with regular gaps and disjointed, but they were still there. With a little careful jogging, she could often remembersome of the things we had done together. Nearly every visit ended in her realising there were things she wanted to talk about, but that the scenarios were no longer in her head. She’d struggle with constructing sentences. She’d become aggressive, then defeatist. She’d cry. We’d always cry afterwards. She died shortly after my grandfather, and though we missed them both terribly, we understood the crippling effect grief has on the body, even as the mind disintegrates.
But I worry constantly about how much we remember. How much of it is accurate. My sister recently moved into an area of Cardiff in which I’d spent a lot of my teenage years. Yet I couldn’t remember a single road name, or the shops/off licences/pubs I’d frequented. I’m heading back to Cardiff in a few days and I’m hardly sure I can rely on my memory to guide me around the town. I still feel a massive attachment to the city and country, but my memories of it are dimmed. Does it matter? Not on the surface. But I worry that later I’ll appear more baffled than I currently am, in my mid-twenties. That my inability to remember phone numbers, street names and surnames will translate into an inability to accurately remember the dynamics of past relationships. I’m already hopeless at remembering faces. What happens when I forget my best friend’s surname?