Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Persistence of Memory

What is it about humans that inclines us to commemorate events, no matter how miniscule?

Why must we celebrate the date of our births, and why is it so damn important to us?

Why do we find it necessary to honor the date we got married, graduated from college, moved to New York, started a job, lost a job, or buried a loved one?

It might be nice if it were only in homage to celebratory milestones, or tentpole events of some gravitas, but we humans - or, perhaps, just we women - torture ourselves with the persistent memory of every minute detail of every relationship gone wrong, every lost lover who has most certainly forgotten the minutia of our brief time together.

But this commitment to memory doesn't just apply to the epic fail relationships, but also to the tiny blips, the small fractures in an ever-breaking heart that eventually turns to dust after enough disappointments pile up, disastrous in aggregate. Even if we don't remember the exact date (because it doesn't fall on a holiday or have any other point of reference), we remember that it was around this time last year that we booty-called this person or had two dates in the same night or met a kindred spirit or mourned a number of unreturned calls or stood up dates.

If you're lucky enough to have a relationship that lasts a while, you remember every detail of every encounter with surgical precision: the night he met you and your friends in Brooklyn, the night he first took you home, the night you kissed on the subway platform, the morning he made you oatmeal, nursed your head injury, and didn't want you to leave...

And to look back on those events as though they're important, to recall them for more than just the sake of chronology, is simply masochistic. Each of those anniversaries are probably ones only you celebrate.

As though our minds (and our sometimes distorted memories) weren't relentless enough, we have dozens, perhaps hundreds of saved emails and text messages and voicemails to scroll through on rainy afternoons, late sleepless nights, and lonely weekend mornings to remind us of the nuances we might have otherwise allowed ourselves to forget. We have Facebook likes, comments, wall posts and photo tags for those lovers who have not yet unfriended us. We have drunk tweets, check-ins, and, in my unfortunate case, blog posts that chronicle every painful and joyous movement and development of our lives. Through technology - probably ever since the advent of the Palm Pilot - we are able to construct and dedicate a comprehensive timeline of our lives once reserved only for the very famous.

Isn't it better sometimes to simply...forget? Can't we turn a painful vignette into a wrinkle in time, and pretend it never happened, instead of living forever in memoriam?

How can we preserve the lessons of the past in our brains and hearts - je me souviens - without remembering every single detail with such clarity that the simple act of recalling the memory reinflicts the original injury? Or worse yet, inflicts a new injury upon a heart that once swelled happy during the original experience?

I've tortured myself plenty of times poring over old diary entries detailing various romantic traumas, and then one day, I left one of my handwritten journals in the seat back pocket of a US Airways airplane, delirious from having napped the entire flight. Initially freaked out and mournful, I soon became relieved at the loss, because that entire notebook was full of breakup ruminations. And without that notebook to remind me (having already swapped out cell phones with all the old calls on it), I could let it - and him - go.

I used to keep a handwritten list of every guy I was physically romantic with, annotated with symbols and abbreviations to classify them by how physical I had been with them, and with any other characteristic descriptors (from Latvia, in Ireland, on the bus, etc.). And at some point, I just...stopped. With that, I've forgotten some names and details (though admittedly my list is growing at a much slower pace than it used to), and I'm sure I've forgotten some people altogether.

But if someone is really important, deeply affecting, so much so that you can't get them out of your head,  maybe it's worth remembering every look they ever gave you, every word they uttered, every flutter of lashes against your neck.

Even if it hurts to do so.

Even if you're the only one.

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