Don’t worry, I have plenty of mind left, and my memory in general is okay (as far as I know.)
But I lose words these days, and for the last couple of years, as though they were marbles rolling merrily away under couches, or even sitting taunting me in plain sight, except that I can’t see them except as fleeting glimpses out of the corner of my eye. Words, especially names, are playing hide-and-seek in my brain.
Not all words, of course. I have lots of words, plenty of words, and they’re the best words, that I can tell you. And they don’t disappear for good. Usually they come back and behave perfectly well, at least for a while. Sometimes they come back on their own, usually not while I’m agonizing over why I cant remember them, but a little later, when I’m doing something else entirely. Or when I give up and look them up online, since I can always think of some context where they're sure to appear.
A few are repeat offenders, and I have to make up odd associations to bring them to the surface. The first time I remember doing this was for the name of a flowering plant, one I know perfectly well; cyclamen. Somewhere I’d seen the term “cyclamen pink” to describe a certain color, and now, if I’m trying to remember the plants’s name, I think “pink, that's it, cyclamen pink,” even though the flowers can range from white to deep burgundy. An odder link I use is for the useful bedding plant fpr shady areas, hosta. It makes no sense that I often can’t remember the word, but it makes even less sense that I can get there by remembering a sentient life form made of stone, from a Star Trek episode: the Horta. I can remember “Horta” and get to “hosta” from there.
It really doesn’t matter whether I can remember those plant names, or so many names of actors and actresses I’ve known well for years but can’t bring to the surface when I see them in old movies or TV. I’m pretty sure lots of people have trouble remembering those names. It’s worse when the lost names are those of people I know in real life (especially when they’re standing right in front of me,) or have known and want to discuss with others. What really shakes me up is when suddenly I can’t remember important words. Like “metaphor.” How could I not remember that word? Didn’t I use it just yesterday, or even today? I lay awake in the early morning a couple of days ago trying to sneak up on it. Simile. Alliteration. Onomatopoeia. Um…hyperbole. (That one almost got away.) All those fine words about words. But no luck, until the next day “metaphor” casually popped up in something I happened to be reading. So far it hasn’t slipped away again, so I guess I don’t need to figure out some—what’s that word? “Mnemonic? I’ll have to look it up.
On a more serious note, (not that I don’t realize the potential seriousness of losing words—is it a first step to something much worse?) I’ve been reflecting lately on a different kind of loss. I spend quite a bit of time these days in the house and town where I grew up, where my elderly father still lives and needs my help. I was there today, in fact. Sometimes I feel as though I’m meeting my own ghost there, or rather the ghost of who I used to be. I’ve been combing through family photographs to find some old ones of my father and his slightly younger brother who died last week. I’m taking the pictures I find to a memorial service for him this weekend. In the course of this, I’m finding, or revisiting, many photos of myself at different ages, which reinforces my feeling of having had different identities at different times, and different prospects and expectations. The person I see in the mirror at the end of the hall in that house both is and isn’t the person I used to see there. In a way this might be something gained, not lost, an accumulation of experience and knowledge and memories, maybe even a smidgeon of wisdom. But what’s really lost, or feels lost, is the sense of a limitless future.
I don’t really think I’m losing my mind, and certainly not my imagination, but I can’t help wishing that I could be both my current self and the selves I was in some of those photographs, even though memory tells me that I didn’t feel at any of those times that I was at the ideal time of life. Far from it.
Maybe there’s a word for that feeling, something like nostalgia, but not quite. If there is a word, well, I seem to have forgotten it.