On Forgetting and Being Forgotten

Forgetting is a hard thing.

Or, really, forgetting is an easy thing. It happens without notice. One day, one minute you know a thing and the next, you do not. Most of the time, you don’t realize you have forgotten until someone asks you a question or you need something.

Where did I put those keys?

Sometimes forgetting is part of daily life. Those keys weren’t hung properly on the hook when you walked in the door because the dogs jumped, excited to see you return home after a busy day of driving children to and from school and activities. Those keys were placed under the mail which you also forgot to grab yesterday since it was rain-ice-snowing and the mailbox felt too far away. Those keys and the pile of mail were both pushed aside when you went to start dinner, perching precariously on the edge of the counter but also kind of “out of mind” as they weren’t interfering with anything else. Out of sight, out of mind.

Well, I don’t know what I ate for dinner.

Sometimes recalling the mundane feels hard. What did I eat for dinner? I’ve eaten meals for over 13,000 some odd days. Maybe one meal starts to blur into another. Maybe last night’s meal wasn’t exciting or out of the ordinary. Maybe the memory of the meal mashed up with the potatoes from last week.

Maybe when Mamaw looks at the plate in front of her with food still on her fork, she’s thinking about much tastier meals from past years. Maybe when I’m standing in the kitchen, trying to remember what we ate last night, my brain is too busy thinking up what I’m going to create for dinner tonight. Maybe remembering what you ate isn’t overly important.

Meanwhile, the brain is a tricky creature that can pull up odd details without issue. Mamaw sat and told my husband all about a watch she got way back in the day. She explained it to him in great detail. Why that particular thing is easy for her to talk about and recall, I don’t quite know other than remote memory often stays intact even when short-term memory leaves.

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I’m blessed-slash-cursed with a memory that won’t forget even the most boring of details. I can tell you what I wore on the first day of every day of school. Useless, right? I can also describe in excruciating detail every traumatic event of my life: my daughter’s birth, the day I left the hospital, the first time the dog bit me as a baby, the second time the dog bit me as a toddler. I also have vivid memories of dreams—I especially hate this one because they sometimes want to mix into real memories and it can feel difficult to decide if I saved a baby from a tornado that devastated The Farm or not. Spoiler: I didn’t nor was there a tornado that devastated The Farm, though we had a close call once as well as a Micro-Burst.

And let’s be honest: There are things I would love to forget. The trauma, the loss, the way you made me feel; the way I made you feel and how it bowled me over. That feeling in the pit of my stomach when we got caught. That feeling in the pit of my stomach when I sent you a letter. That feeling that washed over my soul when I wanted to give it all up. Mainly, I would like to forget feelings.

I don’t know who that is.

One process of forgetting—the process of being forgotten—feels the worst.

I was the first to be forgotten. After Mamaw’s devastating fall last summer, we stopped to visit her in the home. After my husband and I left, she asked Gramps “who that woman was.” I understood; I’m the newest adult here. 14 years may feel like a long time, but it’s still relatively new when you’ve been around for 80 years. I cried, but I didn’t take it personally. Or, I tried not to.

When she forgot our youngest son, though, my heart broke a thousand times over. Also true: He’s the youngest and thus the newest in her life. She knew our older son, but couldn’t figure out our youngest son’s name even after he removed his new glasses. When we discussed it later, he said he understood. They’ve both been amazing as we deal with this slow, excruciating loss; they’re helpful and present. They ask questions. “How was Mamaw today? Was it a good day or a bad day?” They offer hugs and kind words.

But being forgotten sucks. Being forgotten by a beloved grandmother, even if she is a great-grandmother, hurts on levels he doesn’t quite possess the words to describe right now. And so he joins me in the kitchen as I hand wash dishes, a towel in his hand to dry them off before we put each worn dish, bowl, and glass away. He helps and helps and helps. He gives and gives and gives, as if to say, “See what I’ve done? Don’t forget me, Mamaw.”

I stand beside him at the sink, hands in the lukewarm, greasy water, willing the same.

On Forgetting and Being Forgotten

 

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