Monday, February 24, 2014

Memory in Midlife

Memory in middle age is a tricky thing. I repeat myself more often than I wish. I've been forgetting since my early thirties where I parked my car at the grocery store; part of that is because I moved to Texas and the vehicles are so huge that it's not easy to see my sedan behind the Tahoes, but mostly it's because I am thinking about what I'm going to cook that night and not paying attention.  Between the Central Market parking lot and the ones at the DFW airport (thank you to the nice people who patrol those lots in a Prius and help us lost souls find our vehicles two rows away from where we were looking in the first place) I could get a year of my life back. I've made peace with this and now write things down, but only because I attribute it to a character defect and not encroaching age.

Lately I notice the elasticity of time.  Things that happened five, ten years ago seem like they were last week.  Fairly routinely, usually during my brooding hour around 4 in the morning, I have a vivid recollection of a law firm event I organized when the office manager looked over my shoulder for days ahead and the whole evening, and could barely contain her satisfaction when we nearly ran out of wine, only rescued by my sending the catering company owner to his nearby shop to pick up another case. She was a nice lady but her desire to be the only indispensable person in the joint annoys me yet. Then the band snaps back and it hits me that she died four years ago from a brain tumor.  It's on me to get over that one.

It's also selective. The baby who lived down the street and was born two weeks before my son?  I remember talking to his mother in the driveway, a couple of years ago, and the child was bald and large-eyed and resembled ET.  Now he's over six feet with a gorgeous head of hair and heading off to high school. I also have a fuzzy yet distinct recollection of my former husband baking bread with a friend in Toronto and then deciding, quite logically, to race each other down the street to the Madison Avenue Pub, naked.  There was bemusement on the part of the other wife and I, and no frostbite transpired, nor were there arrests made. It is a fun memory, but what I can't quite recall is the woman who experienced it.

Nora Ephron wrote in I Remember Nothing that her life was wasted on her because she remembered so little. Yet in the subsequent essays, she writes evocatively of her parents, screenwriters who drank, and how she met Lillian Ross and tried carefully to determine if her mother's old story about kicking Lillian out of a party at their house was true.  Nora died at 76, right before which she wrote she'd missed punch lines, failed to recognize her own sister in an airport, and had to look up movie titles on Google.  But thankfully, she had not reached the "nadir of old age, the Land of Anecdote".

I seem to preface many of my conversations with, did I tell you this before?  And yet I hope to stave off the nadir to which Nora refers.  I suppose for many people the best stories live in the past, and they hope to share these to reassure themselves that they've had some fun after all. 

Reinvention in midlife is much better than many imagine. At forty, single again, I remembered the young woman I was and learned that nobody much cared if I was respectable, that I'd put it all on myself.  I found a real career, read and traveled (under the auspice of work, mostly, until I met T) and decided to write again, all things I'd dreamed of when young.  The memory came from my soul rather than my mind, and there have been giddy moments of rediscovery.  My kids still love me and my friends do as well.  I am my own worst judge--what's wrong, after all, with reinhabiting my real self?

I'm only on this side of fifty, with a resolve to have many anecdotes to tell when I am 80--but from last week. I will remember stories of my new adventures. If only I can find my car.