The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
–H.P. Lovecraft (kind of a weirdo and a racist, but definitely right in this particular case)
Out of all the realistic places to run into a person you went on one date with, a wiffleball tournament has to be among the worst.
It was something like nine thousand degrees out on this shadeless field, so I had turned the t-shirt they gave us at the signup tent into a makeshift keffiyeh/turban. They even let me dip it in some of the ice water they were using to cool the (overpriced) drinks down, so I was both absurdly-attired and soaked. It was about that time that I saw her: dressed all in black, a very expensive camera around her neck. She looked different (and, come to think of it, so did I), but neither of us so different that we weren’t obviously the people we’d been back then. She’d mentioned on our date that she was a photographer, and it looked like she was there documenting the tournament, probably for the local paper. We’d gone on the aforementioned single date about eight months prior, and while it went reasonably well — she seemed to have it together, life-wise — there really wasn’t that much chemistry there. I texted once or twice more, but our conversations were limited, and it wound down quickly and uneventfully. I probably hadn’t thought about her since then in anything more than a cursory sense.
Still, she was good people, so I resolved to say hi. My team (undoubtedly the most multicultural one at the tournament, we had named ourselves the “Illegal Emigrants”) had just finished a game and were sitting by the field, watching two other teams face off. I noticed she’d started taking pictures of those teams, and was about to walk over when she started heading towards me.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Do you happen to know that person’s name?”
She indicated the guy at bat. She’d just taken a picture of him, and it’s part of a photographer’s job to identify her subject for the caption.
I turned to look at her. What do you say to someone who you recognize but has no idea who you are?
Not being recognized itself is exceptionally rare (‘cause I’m so charming and handsome, see?), but I have a bit of a problem when it comes to recall. I really don’t want to sound conceited, but it’s nearly impossible in this case, so I’ll just state it outright: I have an exceptional memory.
It’s not eidetic by any means — I’ve watched news segments on the occasional person who can recall every detail of every hour they’ve spent on this Earth, and I’m nowhere near where they are. I can empathize with them, however, because while it’s not a curse or a burden, it’s just so damned inconvenient sometimes.
It can make me seem awfully invested in things I’ve not otherwise considered in ages. I was talking with a friend once about college, and she mentioned that she went to Bowdoin. A normal person would ask normal person questions like “how did you like it” and “what did you major in” and so on.
Here’s what I did: immediately this rogue Google search ran my head of every time I’ve heard the word “Bowdoin” in my whole life. It took me right back to an eighth-grade class trip to Gettysburg, where I marched up Little Round Top while a tour guide lectured me and my classmates on the heroic bayonet charge of the 20th Maine, who held the flank of the entire Union Army and turned back a ferocious Confederate attack. The commander of the Maine ended up becoming quite famous, despite the fact that he was, in civilian life, a — oh wait, that’s where I’ve heard it.
“Bowdoin — Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain went there, right? Became president after the Civil War was over?”
The look I got, I swear. I know that look. I get that look all the time.
This still sounds conceited, doesn’t it? I’ll admit that it comes out to be a net positive. I rock at trivia, for one, and it really helps when I feel the need to hold forth on something interesting, which is … pretty much all the time. Having an exceptional memory is pretty great, but what about when it stops being memory and morphs into an inability to forget?
Here is a partial list of things that I will never be able to scrub from my mind, their every detail inked in my head like a bad tattoo: the time I got a real easy question about baseball wrong in a middle school trivia contest and the entire class laughed at me for what seemed like days. The time I took a called strike three with the bases loaded and two outs in the last inning in a Little League championship game, despite the fact that it crossed the plate at my ankles and was clearly a ball, thank you very much umpire with a green cast on his right arm. Literally every time I have ever screwed up in any way at work or school. The sound my great-grandmother made when they closed the lid of my great-grandfather’s coffin for the last time.
Sometimes one of these memories will grab me and shut my life down for hours. A good memory can set off fireworks behind your eyes in the quietest moments, but it can lash your mind to your every embarrassment and indignity and, frankly, ruin your whole damn day.
So, I downplay it. I let people I’ve met years ago reintroduce themselves to me. I keep my mouth shut when someone mentions an obscure name that triggers a whole biography. I look for more subtle ways of letting people know about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
And, when a person I went on a date with once nearly a year ago asks me a question with no recognition behind it, I don’t laugh, reintroduce myself, and ask her about one of the million things she told me about herself that, prompted by her appearance, are leaping about my tongue like pop rocks.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. He told me his name earlier, but I don’t recall.”