It was the year 2002, I remember that year because it was the year I got divorced and for some reason a lot of events and people from that year have stuck with me, vividly. I was walking on a treadmill, one of the things I promised myself I would do after I got divorced was working out again. On the treadmill beside me was a schoolteacher and we were talking about how the human memory will forget nouns but very rarely verbs. This is a great example because I remember the woman, I remember what we were doing and what we were talking about, but I do not remember her name.
The irony of the conversation, or rather the conversation with this particular woman, was when I was married I wasn’t allowed to have women friends, and I missed talking to women terribly. This was a beautiful woman, certainly, but not only was she married but she was also dating a friend of mine, Don, who was also married. They had this odd little ritual of taking off their wedding rings whenever they were working out at the gym together, and I wasn’t the only person who noticed.
The memory of nouns conversation went on for a while, and we tried to decipher why memory would evolve to miss names and not miss verbs. Perhaps, the woman supposed to me, names are more recent in our evolution, and therefore more recent in our memories. I liked that theory, and I liked her for having it. I could see why Don was attracted to her. I supposed back that names, and the people they are associated with, are short terms things. Actions are long-term events, or at least they occupy more time than names, and therefore there is a larger memory target to remember. For instance if you went fishing with Bob then the fishing would be an event with more to remember than Bob, who has a short name, even. She thought about this for a few moments and then agreed this might be the case, also. I liked the idea she took some time with the theory instead of just agreeing with me. See, I remember what we were doing and saying, and I remember she had black hair, and blue eyes, but her name escapes me.
We talked about that too. Why is it you can have a name “on the tip of your tongue” and not be able to speak that name? You see the person clearly, can describe that person, you know where they work and who they are married to yet the name itself? A mystery! Yet it does reside in your mind, because someone can say the name and suddenly you know it is the right name. Yes, yes, of course, Bob is who I went fishing with that time we saw the Loch Ness Monster.
The woman was keenly interested in my divorce. How much did it cost? How long did it take? How did you get the ball rolling? What happened and why? Did you cheat on her? Did she cheat on you?
I talked about finding a lawyer, a good one if you’re smart, and why it took so damn long with mine, and I told her I never cheated on my wife, but I thought she had cheated on me, but I really didn’t care because it was over with anyway. That killed the conversation because now she was thinking to herself that it might be over with anyway if he didn’t care she was cheating, or if she didn’t care she was cheating. She was also thinking if I didn’t cheat on my wife it might be I thought it was evil or just plain bad, and so what did I think of her for sleeping with my married friend? We walked in silence for a while, and it was a heavy silence, and she looked over at me two or three times, poised to speak but she didn’t.
Why can’t I remember her name?
Finally, she asked me if I thought what she was doing was wrong, and I told her no, no really, because I had stopped believing in marriage as a viable institution. She asked me if she got married to Don would he cheat on her, and I told her if he would do it for her, he would do it to her, and instantly wished I hadn’t said it. That’s another thing about the mind; why is it you can think something and it sound okay inside your head, but the second it hits the air you realize it’s not?
Now here’s something weird; she asked me if I thought Don and Debra were having sex. Debra was Don’s wife and for some reason I remember her name, even though Don never talked about her. I told her I had no way for forming an opinion on that subject, except for the last year or so in my marriage I couldn’t bring myself to so much as kiss my wife, even though we still had what passed as sex. She started to ask me something, stopped and I asked her if she was still sleeping with her husband, and she blushed. She said she wasn’t but for the first time in the conversation I knew she was lying, and she knew I knew. Sex isn’t the problem, she finally said, and then she asked me how I could sleep with someone and not kiss them. I told her I didn’t know, really, and I still don’t, it just got to the point I couldn’t, and didn’t want to either.
We walked for a few moments in silence, and she asked me if I thought she was a whore. I told her no, I didn’t, and wouldn’t just because she slept with who she wanted, because I had been guilty of that more than a few times in my life. Whore is an odd word, used mostly to define a woman, but if we were to start using it on men we’d run out of it pretty quick. That’s likely why we do not use it to describe men; because it fits so many of them it’s less trouble to define those who aren’t. I asked her if she thought Don was a whore, and she laughed loudly at that. I know he is, she said, still giggling, she had to stop the machine to laugh. She came over to my machine, cut it off, kissed me hard, and walked off. I saw Don later that week and he told me she broke up with him, and quit the gym. I never saw her again.
Why can’t I remember her name?