Memory is a burden. A sack of worn-out belongings that have no purpose. Every memory keeps us in check, a stop light on our journey as we recall outcomes from the past when faced with the same junction.
I was just three years old when I realised I was different. My sack was filling quicker than the others in my family. And it never emptied. Nothing was misplaced, no words or experiences forgotten.
At first, it was an amusing party trick. My parents would spring it on new visitors to the house. They’d wait for a turn in the conversation, a hint of an opening before unveiling it to the guest.
When polite conversation turned to their first-born, it was all the excuse they needed. Not right away, of course. That would be gauche. Once the comparisons with a guest’s child were offered, little Johnny’s first day at school and so forth, then out it came.
It may be the contents of a coffee-morning purse – easy – or the sentence in a magazine artcicle. But it was always the same. Without fail, I could recall anything I had seen. Loose change, lipstick, car keys on a leather fob, Tesco coupons, dental appointment card, mints – half eaten – a Tampax, credit cards, out of date library cards.
Words were harder but it didn’t take long to master those: First it was the Rupert the Bear cartoon in the Daily Express, then onto the splash. Off by heart recitals with just a glance.
Books weren’t a joy, but a chore to be got through. The pages presented themselves instantly. Any narrative, word-play or carefully crafted sentences, all were lost on me. Without the left-to-right and the tracking eyeball greedily sucking in the plot, I was simply a photocopier. The start of a page held equal weight as the end. All were absorbed at the same time.
But proud as my parents were at the party trick, my life became increasingly unhappy.
The doctors they took me to said I was eidetic. I had, to coin a phrase, albeit inaccurate one, a photographic memory.
But it was worse than that.
It was more than just a party trick. I couldn’t switch it off. I remembered EVERYTHING.
Every detail of my life was logged and stored, parsed, assembled and stored. It never stopped. The feelings of different shoes with different socks on differnt days, the taste of peas on the metal tines of a bent fork, the smell of Lenor on the bedsheets and how it faded. These weren’t ephemeral snapshots that flashed and were gone. They built up, irredeemably burned and seared in layer after layer, like geological time, fossilising every memory, every sensation, every word heard, every feeling felt.
My sack never stopped filling. My head was heavy, full. It was not just the good memories that I stored. It wasn’t always the smell of blown out candles at my fourth birthday, the feel of wet laces when I bent down to retie my soccer boots after scoring my first goal, the shape of my mother’s teeth when she laughed.
Who would forget those?
It was the bad memories. The ones that for normal children time’s yard brush swept up and out and never to surface again.
Every illness, every disappointment, every TV news report with swollen-bellied babies, every bitter grimace in the face of my grandmother as she fought pain to bend and hug me. All these stayed fresh, remembered. Heavy, so heavy.
I found relating to children impossible. Adult company annoying. Grown-ups approximated things. Got recollections wrong. Missed detail. I found myself becoming argumentative when friends misremembered, or my parents confused a birthday present.
Arguments turned to anger, anger to violence. WHY were they so STUPID?
Solitude found me out. Loneliness soon followed.
And in the solitude, as I shut down, the doctors returned. I wasn’t eidetic they said. I was autistic.
At four, my condition took hold further. Despite the weight, the misery of memories piling themselves like dead flies on a biker’s visor, I wanted MORE. I was hungry, addicted to them.
There wasn’t a scrap of written material in my home that had not been committed to memory. No VHS video that was not remembered off by heart and no school or library book in our small northern town unread. It did nothing to slake the thirst.
It made it worse.
Then I learned the trick.
Instead of living in the now, instead of surfing through an endless now of new memories, I gradually began to stem the flow.
I looked inwards.By looking inwards I became a visitor to the vast archive even while it continued to be assembled. I was the curator and in turning inwards I was able to briefly avoid the sensations and anger as the new memories continued to hurl themselves at me.
To an observer I was catatonic. But inside, I was treading over a vast landscape, an unending vista of the old, each new meory layering upon the old like the sand blown in on a mistral wind.
I could lose myself for hours, going deeper and deeper. There were always new vistas, the landscape eternally shifting. A trip on my first bike, lollysticks in the spokes and how each stick had a different note.
Or darker, less travelled but nonetheless ever-present scenes.
The sounds of parents rowing rising and falling up from the living room into my room. A pause while the nightly news is turned up to drown the venom and then again each word and shout drifting back up as car headlights strobe through my curtains,
I tried not to linger and pushed on until one rainy weekend, overwhelmed by the streaks of rain on my window as I counted each and every drop and its speed down the silvery pane, I pushed to a place I had never seen.
Dark, reddish, warm, rolling, swaying, fuzzy.
While all my memories were recognisable, This was not. I had never been to this place before.
I pushed on.
I could hear voices, muffled, indistinct. As if someone had out a mitten in their mouth and tried to read. The SOUNDS of words but not the words themselves. And this one came with a feeling, a dread feeling. A surge of panic, then happiness, then panic again.
I don’t remember this one. Why?
I felt scared at accessing this. Why had I not come here before on my days of internal exploring.
Most of my memories had shapes, it’s how I recognise and sort them. But this. This was unformed, unordered. New.
As the words came again, I strained to insert myself in t he memory. They became clear. The surges returned but still it was dark, warm, without light.
‘…no, you really are pregnant. You’re going to have a boy.’
Categories: The Last Seanachie