This November, I’m telling 30 stories about 30 albums. The albums on this list are not necessarily my favorite albums, but they are the ones that are instantly associated with a time and place. All of these albums represent a chapter of my life. This is the story of those albums, and by extension, the story of me, presented mostly chronologically.
Album 15: Self Titled by The Stone Roses.
This whole period is hazy for me, because I had just received a massive Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that, by all rights, should have killed me. The doctor said that had it hit mere centimeters in any other direction, I might have been a vegetable or just straight up died. It didn’t kill me, but it did destroy my life.
Before that night, I had a job. I had been working towards an Associate’s degree so that I could transfer to a four-year university. After that night, I earned the nickname goldfish, because my memory span was about as long as one (though really, goldfish have a memory of about three months, not thirty seconds). The TBI damaged parts of my brain responsible for memory, both short and long-term, and everything that entails.
Not to get all technical on you, which I could do, because I’ve done a lot of research on the brain since mine was damaged, but there is no distinct part of the brain that is responsible for memory. It’s actually system-wide.
For example, in writing this sentence, I’m using the part of my brain that constructs sentences, the part that remembers what words mean and how to spell them, the part that knows which keys on the keyboard to push, the part that moves my fingers accordingly, the parts that see what I’m typing and can hear the keys on the keyboard, the part that remembers what I typed two seconds and two minutes ago, and let’s not forget the parts that are currently digesting the coffee I just drank and all the other functions that are keeping me alive. There’s a lot going on just to type this little sentence.
A human experience isn’t converted into a memory all in one place like a file folder you can open. The brain stores your 1s and 0s throughout its entire memory array, meaning that some parts of it can be corrupted while other parts are intact. The injury made Swiss cheese of the long-term memories stored in my brainpan, memories of everything from what an owl sounds like to how to spell kumquat to my first day of school.
When you think of a memory, you think of it as a whole experience, but when you recall that experience, the data comes from many different places in your brain. A lot of those different places in my brain no longer work, so I have some memories where I’ve lost the smells, emotions and sounds related to them. I have memories that are just smells or sounds with no backstory–just a smell in a sea of blackness–while other memories are totally intact. I remember some mundane things with perfect clarity, while some major events and entire years of my life are just gone. It is completely random what I remember and what I don’t.
The TBI also damaged a bit of my speech and language center. Shortly after the accident, one of the memories that made it from short to long-term memory with crystal clarity was asking, “What’s the cylindrical aluminum container with the pop top that usually houses soda or beer called?” “You mean a can?” Yes! I could totally remember cylindrical, aluminum, container and every other concept related to it, but I could not remember the word “can.” I still have this problem, which is why you’ll often see very fancy words appear in my writing instead of simple ones. I’ll remember philatelist, but not stamp collector. It’s a good thing I was genius-level smart before the accident or I’d still be a drooling idiot.
I permanently lost my timeline. I am unable to sort memories by year, unless there is a significance to the date, e.g., I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on September 11, 2001. I will always remember where I was and what I was doing on March 15, 2015 when I found out that the love of my life died.
This date significance thing can backfire though. For example, I remember all my childhood birthdays as essentially one. I only had one birthday and one Christmas as a kid. I still can’t give any more certainty than plus or minus five years on my memories. I’ve found that the best way to determine a date range is remembering where I was living at the time. Since I lived in the same house for the first fifteen years of my life, well, childhood is difficult. Another good reminder is music, hence this series.
When it first happened, my memory was all in a jumble. I would remember having lunch, but that memory could have been from earlier that day or from 1982. Both seemed exactly the same to me and I had absolutely no way of telling which it was.
As crappy as the long-term memory damage is, the absolute worst, and where the goldfish comes in, was the short-term memory damage. My brain was mostly incapable of turning most things that just happened into long-term memory. I could have a conversation with someone, and thirty seconds later, completely forget not only what we talked about, but that we had even talked at all.
I had to quit my job and school, and leech off my family, because I was completely useless. I would go entire days without eating, because I remembered eating that lunch in 1985. I would be driving to one of the hundreds of neurological appointments I had and forget where I was going.
Eventually, I developed a complicated system of writing on my hand and post-it notes, just like the movie Memento, but much less permanent than tattooing.
In fact, that movie is as close to what it was like as anything I’ve ever seen. The only differences are that I wasn’t looking for the man who killed my wife, and over time, my short-term memory did get better. Not good, not even close to what it was, but better. I was very lucky that I was so young and my brain was still developing, so it was able to form workarounds, otherwise, I’d be just like Leonard. I still have to be very careful when trying to remember something for a brief period. If I get distracted, it’s gone forever.
In short, having no memory was absolutely terrifying. Imagine not being able to remember where you were or what you were doing from one moment to the next. Not fun.
The only person from the bar where I was irresponsibly hit on the head who took any interest in my welfare whatsoever was the DJ. The rest of the staff sucked donkey balls. The DJ had followed us to the hospital, but I didn’t know it then. The bar actually threatened to fire him if he left, but he did it anyway.
The DJ called me up and asked how I was. We started talking and then dating. All of my friends were jealous. I’m pretty sure their coercion is why I started dating him at all, since I had no particular interest in him either way, but his solicitous attitude in a sea of assholes won me over.
I had boyfriends before (most of whom I treated abominably), but he forced his way into being the first serious one at a time when I was clearly not in my right mind, which when I think about that now, was entirely shitty of him.
He made me a mixed tape (the international gesture of “I wanna hit that”), which I believe I still have somewhere. No matter his shortcomings–which, as it would turn out, there were a lot of–it was a really good mixed tape.