Thursday, May 17, 2012
Flotsam and jetsam--the dunk tank
My mother, who's 94, claims I have a marvelous memory. She's wrong. Whole eras of my life have totally vanished from my consciousness, I swear. Once upon a time, on the the morning after Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, we stopped in some redneck cafe along the Gulf Coast and stepped into a surreal party of drunk racists having a party. You can read the story here.
The friend of mine who was with me that early morning read that story when it appeared in some newspaper once upon a time and claims he doesn't remember it. It's seared into my memory. "I'll never forget seeing the School Book Depository that trip, though," he told me. I must have been there in Dallas that trip, at the sight of JFK's death. Honestly, I don't remember.
There are holes. Lots of them.
Take this bit of flotsam and jetsam, another remnant from the thicket of stuff left jammed in the edge of my office bulletin board after 30-some years. It's me, sans hair, in a dunk tank, and that kid is going to spring the release so I take a dive I haven't yet taken (the shirt seems dry).
I don't remember the moment at all. I don't even remember the cause. I don't even remember the dunk tank. It's gone. The day I shaved my head was less than a decade ago so we're not talking ancient history here. Whoosh! No memory at all. Nothing. Yet, there's the pic. And it's me. No doubt whatsoever.
Memories are about as goofy the brain itself. Why does anyone remember certain things and forget others, incidents perhaps even more poignant or wacky or marvelous than some they remember? Who chooses? Is there some hall monitor in the corridors of my brain who arbitrarily admits only certain images, tosses the rest into some shadowy bin in the nether portions of the hippocampus?
Why do we remember, and how?
I once thought that what we remembered, what we couldn't forget, was unresolved, unprocessed. Certain images haunt us, stay packed in our rucksacks, because, like puzzles, they're still missing significant pieces and we just can't put 'em in the cupboard until they're perfectly assembled.
Blessedly, that's not true. Some puzzles in our lives we put away conveniently, stick them in a corner of the barn where they'll not scare the women or the horses. Lots of people forget what they'd rather not--and often should not--remember. On the other hand, I remember reading a Holocaust novel about a survivor who understood his own growing senility meant, tragically, the end of memory--and how important it was for him, and the world, never, ever to forget.
Here's a Twilight Zone episode--a man with a memory so immediate and alive that nothing, absolutely nothing, ever gets lost. Imagine that. He'd go crazy. It would be horror, even if that memory had no war stories. Thank goodness we forget some flotsam and jetsam.
Besides, I know the story of the pic. I sat in that tank because I was asked--an honor, I likely assumed, to let students shut me up by dunking me. I probably reviled them when they paid their quarters. I got dunked, more than a couple of times I'm sure, and then, thankfully, I walked home and life went on.
No particular memory, no particular specifics--but I think I know the story, even if I've forgotten it. It's just another day in life.
This one I'll throw.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 5:44 AM