Like these bad boys only with way less structural integrity.

It is strange to think that most of the people you’ve ever known in your life are still out there continuing on without you. Everyone you have loved, hated, fucked, berated, laughed with, cried with, lied to, confided in, cheated, consoled, passed on the street and whatever else people do to each other is still out there somewhere. Well, statistically speaking, some of them are no longer with us, but a lot of them are. Your first friend, your first date, your first everything. Most of them still exist even though, to you, they may be just a memory.

I think you can only truly appreciate this fact when you have removed yourself from familiar surroundings. I am originally from Detroit. It has been fifteen years and thousands of miles since I lived there. It’s been over ten years since I lived in Boston. I have now lived in California long enough to have lost contact with people in the city in which I currently reside. Yet, most of the people I used to know are still here, there or somewhere carrying on.

My memory sucks. It has since I was nineteen or twenty when my brain was smashed by a row of stage lights mounted on a steel pole. Each light weighed roughly 75 pounds and there were five of them.

Sort of like this.

It dented my skull, left me with a 3.5 inch scar and the mental equivalency of a 90-year-old with Alzheimer’s. I spent over five hours in the emergency room getting layer upon layer of stitches. The very nice orderly who was doing all my skull sewing tried to keep count initially, but he lost track somewhere around five hundred stitches. The emergency room bill was $3,600.

Although my memory has gotten better over time–or at least, adapted–ever since, it has been less than pristine. My brain doesn’t function like a regular person’s. I only have bits and pieces of certain parts of my life. I lost most of my childhood when that light hit. I lost my ability to make new memories for a while, too. I had to quit my job and drop out of college because I couldn’t remember where I was from one moment to the next, let alone learn anything. My entire life was exploded and turned into a pile of detritus; I had to rebuild it one piece at a time. I’m still working on it.

Goldfish are know for their short memory spans. I’d like to believe mine is slightly longer than your average goldfish, but when I was first hit on the head, I had little to no short-term memory at all. Hence the nickname.

Smells are the best reminders. Unfortunately, most of the time, a smell will trigger a memory, but I can’t recall exactly what it is triggering. There is a flash of recognition, but if I can’t grab a hold of it right then and there, it’s gone. It’s very frustrating I must say.

There are whole blocks of time trapped in my head that I can’t access. It’s like blacking out from drinking heavily; you know by the clock on the wall that time went from point A to point B, but you have absolutely no idea what happened during that period, and the fragments that you do remember can’t be put in sequential order. Unless there is significance to the date, like 9-11-01, I cannot sort my memories by year. The best I can do is a rough estimate, plus or minus five years.

Memory is such an intangible, mutable thing. Over time, even a person without a massive head trauma will often assign memories to people or things that may or may not have been there in the first place, such as adding people into your memories when they weren’t there or the way your childhood home seems so much bigger in your memories than it actually was because you were smaller. A lot of memories are shared with someone else, but they may recall a completely different version.

Then, someone from my past contacts me and shoves those fragile, little memories into the present again, including all the distorted ideals, which over time, I have attached to said person. I have to sort through what’s left to find even a little shred of what may be the truth, my version of it anyway. When this happens, I can’t help but wonder what distorted ideals people have attached to their memories of me, if they even have them anymore.

I have quite a few memories that I wish I could forget. Some make me cringe and I wish I could take them back, and others are so insignificant that I wonder why I remember them in the first place. But, you can’t consciously change your own memories or decide what you want to remember or forget. Human experience and knowledge is based on a fragile, inconsistent and sometimes faulty mechanism.

You just have to accept that without those memories, distorted and damaged as they are, you wouldn’t be the person you are today. The best that we can hope for in this linear progression of time is to learn something from the past and move it on into the future.

To read more about how my brain has adapted, read the posts Brain FAIL and Bad Brain Days.

This post is part of the On Being Series.