I remember everything. My memory includes the traumatic and life changing events, to the most mundane and ordinary ones. My earliest memory came from one of the most horrific events of the 20th century; the assignation of President Kennedy. It’s crazy that I can remember that event, as I was incredibly young, but I remember every detail. My Mom was ironing in the living room when Walter Cronkite came on the TV and announced that Kennedy had been shot. Mom sat down right where she stood and cried. She continued to cry as the rest of the details were broadcasted throughout the day. We went to my grandparents house for the funeral as they had the big console TV, and I’ll always remember little John John as he saluted his father’s casket. As incredible as it sounds, I was not even three years old.
Other life changing events are also burned into my brain. Robert Kennedy; Woodstock; Apollo 11; Kent State; Vietnam; Governor George Wallace; Nixon’s resignation and cable TV. And of course more recent significant events such as when Regan was shot or the Challenger disaster are stored in my brain. It’s not so unusual to remember such things, as they were significant and traumatic.
The other memories are much more haunting. I’ve read that the mind doesn’t recall pain to the degree that it remembers pleasure. You can’t remember the intensity of a negative feeling, but the pleasure of a kiss, or the smell of a mothers perfume are distinct and clear. In my case however that isn’t true. I can’t especially pull up physical pain, but the emotional pain is just as prevalent as the positive memories. The disappointment at my first (and only) birthday party when I turned five, and only a couple of kids actually showed up. The absolute despair and loneliness the day I was beaten up on the way home from school, and needing my mom to comfort me and make it OK; but she was working and under a deadline, and didn’t have the time. The self loathing from getting in trouble for doing something that I knew was wrong but seemed powerless to stop. As I grew up, the memories become much more tangible. I can recall the intense loneliness and isolation as a teenager that can still make me cry. The hours I spent alone playing myself in ping pong with the table in practice configuration, listening to the radio, sinking into deep sadness every time a love song played. Janice Ian’s “At Seventeen” still brings back the melancholy sadness that overwhelmed me.
My memories are detailed and distinct. I not only remember specific events and feelings, I remember details such as the weather conditions and even what I was wearing at the time. I can put together things on a timeline, recalling how old I was or the month and year that it occurred. My fifth birthday for example, I was wearing black pants and a white, short sleeved white shirt, with a stain on my belly where I had spilled applesauce on myself at the barbecue restaurant where I had lunch with my Mother, Grandmother and sister just before the party. I remember wearing cut off jeans with no shirt watching my first ‘girlfriend’ playing softball in the field next to my house. And how embarrassed I was when I realized that being shirtless showed the lack of armpit hair at a time where many of my peers had already developed. I remember the nights I went disco dancing in my gray slacks, light blue shirt, and electric blue corduroy sports coat (With the color outside the jacket of course) and my fathers’ dress shoes. I remember what I wore on my first job interview, which oddly enough was a tee shirt and jeans. Of course it was appropriate since the job was a counselor at the YMCA.
There are some good memories that bring up happier times and pleasant emotions. Spending time on the family farm; fishing with my Grandfather, watching my Grandmother cooking my favorite meal of chicken stew with the ever present cigarette dangling over the pot as she stirred. I still wonder if the ashes that must have dropped didn’t give it that unique flavor so distinctive. Remembering the excitement of Christmas and the joys of camping at the beach are also among my favorites.
Unfortunately however, it’s the negative that is most prevalent and pervasive. Having lived my entire life in the same area it’s impossible to go anywhere that doesn’t have some kind of bad connotation. I often wonder how that fits in with being bipolar; both in my ability to remember and the effect it can have on my moods. A song, a place, or even a random unrelated memory can swing my moods from one extreme to another. And is the reason my memory is so clear because of the way my bipolar brain is wired? As I get older, the ability to remember the day to day things is diminishing. But the old memories, the old feelings, and the old pain remain just strong as they ever were, haunting me and giving me no chance of escape. There are enough things in the present that impact the day to day living without cluttering up my brain and adding to the emotional overload that I have to live with.
But I remember everything. And it’s a curse.