The other day, my son blew into town on a business trip, and we sat around for three or four hours eating pizza and mocking relatives, two of our favorite pastimes. At some point the conversation turned to heritable traits: it's always seemed slightly weird to him, and maybe a little bit to me, that he strongly resembles his mother, except for the facial hair. (He has more.) His sister, however, looks more like me, though both parents, it must be conceded, are constructed rather like pears, with a lowish center of gravity. A few more comparisons ensued, during which he mentioned that he was occasionally caught short by failing to remember someone's name, and that he wasn't especially good at recalling faces either. This isn't at all characteristic of his mom, who can tell you everything about everyone in her high-school class (1972) if you ask, but it describes me to a T, and a capital T at that.

I have long been bothered by this phenomenon, since it's seemingly inconsistent with other aspects of my being: I'm supposed to be the Detail Guy, the one who remembers everything. Obviously, I don't. And if there's anything I hate, it's failing to maintain this persona in the manner to which I aspire.

Still, I can't deny that it exists. And in practice, it works out much the way Quinn Cummings describes it:

So when you ask me about anyone from my childhood ... I have virtually nothing to say, which means they were nice. If someone is horrible, I remember. If I behaved like an idiot in front of them, I remember. If they're nice, I remember their dog. So when I say "They were great," I don't remember much about them but they probably were, and are, wonderful people. And yes, some people with whom I worked were going through some stuff and weren't that pleasant to be around but I'm certainly not going to tell you because I'd hate to think someone was using my behavior at a bad time in my life to paint my entire character.

Few things in my life, in fact, are as memorable to me anyway as the times I acted like an idiot. And they weren't at all limited to my childhood.

After Sonny Boy headed home, I attempted to summon the images of people I'd known at various stages of my life, with results that may charitably be described as "mixed": almost every test subject was incomplete in some way. Examples:

  • Blonde I had a crush on in first grade: remembered name, height, incredible roundness of face; did not remember voice, or guy she inexplicably preferred to me.

  • Drill sergeants in Army basic training: remembered voices and distinctive headgear; did not remember names, except for one which I thought was spelled wrong on his uniform. It was not.

  • Cousin who died at a ridiculously young age, possibly of a genetic disorder: remembered name, the looks of his bedroom, and a reference to him I once made in a journal; only vaguely remembered appearance.

  • Former co-worker, a decade or so ago: remembered everything from here down, nothing from there up.

The most embarrassing, perhaps, was a young woman I had been seeing long after my marriage had unraveled. I remembered her height, and how it contrasted with mine (I was 16 inches taller); I remembered her shoes, absurdly tiny; I remembered a blanket of hers that we'd once, or maybe twice, huddled under; I remembered an instance when I'd driven to her house wearing nothing but sneakers and a smile; yes, I even remembered her dog. (Well, she was nice.)

It took me the better part of two days to come up with her name.

Four years from now comes a high-school reunion. Fiftieth. It's a two-thousand-mile drive, there and back, but I've never had any problems with two-thousand-mile drives. (Well, there was that one time when a deer took out my car, but I'd just barely cleared the 100-mile mark at the time.) But I suspect that I won't be able to recognize any of the attendees unless they're in Official School Uniforms, and well, I wouldn't fit into mine, even if I still had it, and I have no reason to believe I am the only member of the class (out of 227) with this particular problem. I do remember "227," or at least I think I do; I was, I think, seventh among them. Now if you want names, I'll have to go hunt down my yearbook which I do have. Somewhere.

The Vent

  25 January 2015

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 Copyright © 2015 by Charles G. Hill