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I got it. No, I lost it. I had it, but I forgot it. That is, I lost my grip on the umbrella, our anniversary, the password, my client’s name, my promise to call you back, the money I owe you…. I suppose it’s the opposite of remember, which is about grasping a memory and pulling it back into consciousness, like a big carp on a stout fishing line. That line is a neural pathway in your brain. Forgetting, on the other pole, is like reeling in an empty hook baitlessly. You can tell by the tension on the line if anything is there beneath the surface of proof. “OOOPs, guess I forgot my key, wallet, homework, pants.” In Alzheimer’s patients there are many lines that have empty hooks or severed tethers to nothingness. They catch only plaque fish that let go as the empty hook breaks the surface of stark reality.
How is it that we forget so much, so often? For instance, I forget my hair appointments about as often as I remember them. My stylist gives me a card each time in good faith without any lecture or nagging. I go right back to my office and somehow don’t record the next appointment. I “remember” to some degree when my hair starts to curl over my ears that I should be getting it cut again, so let’s see… it’s not written on the calendar… again. Shabingo!! Sorry, Michelle. I buried my reminder card beneath a pack of gum, yellow sticky notes, a few file folders, an overdue bill or two, and a layer or three of just plain stupid. See, I had that card and good intentions to transfer the time to my appointment calendar, but, aaaahhhhhhggggghhhhh. I didn’t. Beat me with hot vermicelli al dente. Fifty strokes or until spongy to the touch.
I suppose there are hundreds of reasons why people forget. Starling distractions come swooping by and pluck up the seeds of thoughtlessness. Or the “thinker”, i.e., the guardian of thoughts, is multitasking like smoking and swimming the back stroke; one or both will end badly. I further suppose that there is accidental forgetting and purposeful forgetting. The first lacks motivation and depends on circumstances like sleep deprivation, inebriation, head injury, Electro Convulsive Therapy, brain swelling for other reasons, or coma.
Then there is purposeful forgetting, willful ignorance. When something awful happens to a victim, the last thing he/she wants to do is memorialize it or recall any part of it. A process of suppression begins, a conscious pushing of the unpalatable memory down under consciousness, until it is unrecognizable, beyond willful recall. “It never happened”, the victim tells himself and anyone else who wants to know. He/she repeats the lie until it is as silkily familiar as the truth. It becomes an alternative factual narrative, maybe with a twist of irony or a dash of humor. Held down beneath the surface of consciousness long enough, the true truth will drown or lose conscious connectivity. In that state, called repression, the horrible truth will stay put at a significant cost. The cost is a nocticeable change in the keeper of the truth as the lies sputter, leaking psychic energy out into anxiety, a sort of free floating anxiety. The gate keeper’s one leg grows shorter and he/she loses balance, stumbles or develops vertigo. He leans like a peg-legged sailor on a rocky boat. Dreams get weird. Panic is easy to find.Transfusing truth with embalming fluid lies even temporarily is similar to submerging a new boogie board under several feet of salt water. When the downward pressure wiggles a bit and the truth keeper loses his/her grip, the boogie board killer whale comes barreling out of the water. Whoa! What’s that all about? How is it even possible?
It is both a Biblical and psychological maxim that the truth will set you free. Boy will it ever, especially if you have suppressed it twenty leagues below in the dark undercurrents of your psyche for twenty years. Upheaval, surge, turbulence, tumult, and eruption are just a few words that come to mind to describe such events. “I remember, I remember now!!” gushes out of a tortured client’s mouth as tears squirt. Odd contortions in face and body follow, like emotional vomiting or rebirth, as the redeemed individual is uncrucified.
“It was my father… our pastor… my stepbrother… my bus driver… coach… who did the unspeakable… and took my voice along with my innocence.” Heaving sobs and labored breaths are interrupted by gasping phrases, ” it was, uh, hurt, dark, terror” followed by uncontrollable shaking. You watch and wonder what reality is. My breathing is calm and measured. I see a puzzle being solved, order coming into being. Painful redemption of an abandoned soul
It’s another day at the office for me, but I can’t forget the privilege it is to be present at a holy feast of vulnerability. Like a birth or a heart transplant, life is palpably on display. Sure, it was there five minutes ago in some lesser shadow state, but now I hold a baby becoming pink on my lap as a middle aged man weeps for his terrorized four year old self. His new pulsing heart is wet and messy in my hands. “I believe this is yours.”
“Thank you so much.”
“No. You did all the work. It’s your gift. Thank God, my friend. He never forgot you.”