The problem with memory is that it is stored in the brain and it survives by being kept up to date by the operating system of the brain, that thing which we call the mind. Now, because memory is being constantly updated there’s a better than average chance of there being a flaw, ever how slight, in the copy, and therefore the entire memory becomes suspect over time. Usually we’re happy with this arrangement because the memory can be refreshed by reality. We couldn’t recall the exact lyrics to a song we liked five years ago but if it comes on the radio we merrily sing along with it as if we’ve practiced it for years, which we have, in a way, because it’s stored in our memory.
Six or seven years ago, I cannot remember how long, isn’t that a hell of a way to start out, I met a woman who had a great body and dark hair. The next time I saw her she had lightened her hair considerably, and I commented on it and a connection was made between us. We dated, became close, and one day I asked her why she had changed her hair from very dark to very light. She countered that it hadn’t really been that dark, but I remembered that it had been. It was an odd sticking point but I conceded that she likely knew more about her hair than I did. Odd thing was that while we were dating someone else commented they liked her hair very dark, like she used to have it.
Now, let’s go back even deeper in time, back in the early 80’s when I was stationed at Fort Gordon near Augusta. I tried several different routes through Middle Georgia to get to South Georgia and none of them were easy or quick. At some point in that time I must have passed through the same part of Middle Georgia I passed through in the late eighties, when I went to visit a friend in Warren County. Now, here we are in 2015, on Thanksgiving Day, and I’m on my way to South Carolina and I pass by an abandoned school. There was this odd sense of veja vu. Not that I had been there before, no, but the feeling that this had been a dreamscape, and that I had formed a dream from memory, the most elusive of realities. In the dream, in this dreamscape of the abandoned school, I was walking under the shelter to the busses and somewhere in that school I had hidden something that I wanted to get back but had no idea how to do it with so many people around. I found it odd that so many students were waiting outside, even under the shelter, risking getting wet, when they could have waited inside. I was looking for a girl I knew, and I wouldn’t see her again because the school was closing.
Ready for some weirdness?
I have no idea at all the condition of this building as I passed by it, if I indeed had ever passed by it, but Thanksgiving Day of 2015 I went by it and saw it, in broad daylight, as a building sitting in an overgrown lot with high weeds encroaching on all sides. That was it should have looked like if what was to be in the dream transpired. The school had been abandoned, the girl forever lost to me, and some ill-gotten gains recovered or not, who is to say?
This edifice stayed in my mind from Thanksgiving Day to the next, and I was looking for it on my way back. There it was, too. Fully functional, nicely groomed, and obviously it had been for quite some time. No field expedient lawn care company had swept in on Thanksgiving Day to clean the place up. At some point I came upon the building, saw it for what my memory told me I would see, like hearing the lyrics of a song wrong, and the next day… Which memory is correct?
The woman’s hair, the condition of a school building I may or may not have seen over thirty years ago, when it comes to memory, what is to be trusted and what cannot be trusted? You get into a car and you feel comfortable you’ll arrive at some destination that’s stored in your mind but at the same time, how long did it take to find your keys?
You trust your memory to remind you to take your meds, or that you have taken your meds, or to skip your meds, yet you cannot remember what you had for lunch yesterday without some effort of thought, and even then, are you sure? Can you be?
We’ve all heard about some elderly person who drove for hours because their mind simply let the memories go of familiar places. That only happens to old people and those with brain diseases, right? When it happens to us, those of us who consider themselves in command of their facilities, how to explain it away? Does the mind simply sweep it under the mental rug to keep from having to face the idea that the mind itself is a flawed creature? This is paramount to a long distance runner getting tired after running a block. A glitch? A sign of aging? Is disease setting in? Or has this been happening all your life and it’s just getting to the point you now have age to blame it on?
I wonder if I can find the school on Google and bring forth a photo for you? Can I remember where it is close enough to find it without searching for it at great length?
What if it never existed at all?
Like the woman’s dark hair, either she doesn’t remember it correctly or two people do not remember it correctly, or there’s some place in between all of this where a long dead reality resides unknown and unknowable.
Somewhere out there, in my mind or Middle Georgia, is a school I never went to and will likely never see again, yet here it is, you will either remember it because of these words, or you will forget it, too.