So, last night I spent…

So, last night I spent four hours on the phone talking with my first boyfriend. (Not the first person I dated -- that one I "dated" for about a week, and as he is now dead it would be difficult to talk on the phone with him). This four hour conversation wouldn't be so remarkable were it not for the fact that I haven't spoken to him in at least five years. We actually went out for several months about eight years ago, and then had a messy breakup, and then were in contact very sporadically for a few years, and then we just stopped communicating.

We weren't communicating particularly well at that point in any case -- there were all these issues and things and problems between us that were mostly going unspoken. Some of those got dealt with last night. It felt strange to really *talk* with him for the first time in so many years. I owed him some apologies, for the way I'd represented him in fiction and poetry. I couldn't see him very clearly for a long time -- I'm still trying to figure him out, in fact, at least enough to be fair to him.

We spent a lot of time trying to remember how things had happened. Sometimes our memories match, and sometimes we can fill in details for each other that then feel right, and sometimes we just have totally opposing memories. Where we were the first time I kissed him, for example, is something we've just agreed to disagree on. :-)

It felt really...settling, somehow, to nail some of those incidents down. My memory is terrible. It feels so unreliable these days, and I write things into stories partly to remember them, but unfortunately, if I do that, the fictionalized version tends to take over and I lose the actual memories. If I even tell a story a few times it starts seeming unreal. It was a relief to be able to ask him, "Did this really happen? Did that?" and have him tell me they did. Generally.

My grandparents on my mother's side had some version of Alzheimer's. I don't know much about the disease; even though my grandmother lived with us for a while, I was pretty involved with high school at the time, and didn't spend that much time with her. She didn't speak much English, I think, though I could be wrong about that. What I do remember is that eventually, she forgot my name. She had held onto it for a long time -- I was her first grandchild, and she remembered my name long after many others had disappeared, but eventually, it just went. She would look at me and be so distressed that she knew me but didn't know my name. Near the end, she forgot who I was entirely.

I don't seem to have many of the standard fears about aging -- not yet, at any rate. I'm not even really afraid of my own death; I doubt it seems real to me. I am, however, terrified of losing my memory. Without memory, who am I? If I am relying on others to remember for me, is that so different from being dead?

It is, of course, different. I'm afraid I'm not very rational on this subject. I have resented my weak memory for years. My parents wanted me to be a doctor; I had feelings both for and against the idea, but in the end, it was taken out of my hands. I simply could not memorize well enough to do well in science classes. I'd take an entire semester of physiology or genetics in college, do well straight through the class, enjoy it, understand it, get excited about it -- and then barely manage a C on the final. Not good enough for med school. You don't want your doctor pausing in the middle of surgery and saying, "Umm...what was that artery again?" I love my writing, but sometimes I think I would have made a good doctor if it weren't for my memory.

This ex-boyfriend I was talking with -- he's also fascinated by memory and history and truth. The passion in his life these days is a genealogy project; he knows so much about his grandparents, great-grandparents, the town they lived in, the people they knew. He knows details about the oddest things; he knows that one of his ancestors had a dog, for example, due to some farm census information he dug up. He has an amazing collection of material: photos, sheets of statistics, history, notes -- he's putting it up on a web page. One of his great frustrations is that so many of the photos have nothing written on them, and nobody now living remembers who was in them. He takes lots of photos himself these days, of ordinary things and the people around him. He writes compulsively on the backs -- he used to just write first names, but now he writes last names as well, and addresses...any detail that might be important later, when memory fails.

I know so little about my own family history. Some days it feels like I simply know very little, period. The number of books I have read, and loved and mostly forgotten...it could make you weep.

I didn't mean this to be a downer of an entry. It was very satisfying talking to him, reclaiming some of those lost memories. I should probably fixate less on remembering lots or all of what's happened. As long as I remember enough...

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