A few weeks ago I had the idea to start a journal of memories. Not a book in the traditional sense, more like a retrospective diary, but as I started writing in it I quickly realized the things I could remember weren't equally spread out over time. For some parts of my life I had an abundance of vivid, richly detailed memories, and in other parts almost none.
It turns out I’m not unique in this regard. The quantity and quality of our memories ebbs and flows over our life. There's even a term for why we remember so little from our childhood—Childhood amnesia. It’s the inability of adults to retrieve episodic memories (memories of situations or events) that occurred before the age of four, and only fragmented memories of things that occurred between the age of 4 and 10. The reasons why are still a mystery, but researchers believe memories are linked to emotions and sense of self, both of which are underdeveloped when we're young.
But beyond our early childhood, why do we remember the things that we remember, and equally interestingly, forget the things we forget? For example, I remember almost nothing from my entire first year of high school, but what little I do remember mostly involves girls.
I remember sitting beside Diane Kaminski in homeroom. It was a science classroom with bunsen burners and sinks and we were seated alphabetically by last name on stools behind rows of raised black formica counters.
I remember the pants Cheryl Warme wore on the first day of grade nine—white , wide-legged and tight-fitting like the type Farrah Fawcett wore in Charlie’s Angels. I also remember that Cheryl never wore those pants again, much to the dismay of every boy in school.
I remember staring at Patricia Young’s breasts in French class. And to be clear, it wasn’t so much her breasts I was staring at, but the silhouette of her bra through her cotton blouse. I also remember how she smiled and where we sat (back row near the door) in a tiny, weird, triangle-shaped classroom with horrible ventilation.
I remember sitting outside with my back against the school’s brown brick wall chain-smoking cigarettes with Kim Schumann and Jackie Pinke while they played cards. I can remember the brand of cigarettes Jackie smoked and Kim’s clothing—bell bottom jeans and a dull white shirt that was a little too small. Most of all, I remember Kim’s eyes, perpetually sad with dark circles around them.
So what am I to conclude from all of this? That the entirety of my 14-15 year old existence was focused around girls?
Maybe, but somehow I think there’s more to it.
I just don’t know what.