“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.” –Friedrich Nietzsche
"Every day your memory grows dimmer/it doesn't haunt me like it did before.” –Bob Dylan
The phone rang. It was my grandmother. She asked who was speaking. I told her it was Mackenzie. There was a pause. She asked if I was visiting Peter. I told her Peter was my father. Another pause. She had forgotten who I was. My father and I were sitting with my grandmother in Mahone Bay at her retirement home. There was a stagnant sense of exhaustion in the air. As bodies grow tired and old, so do minds. Nanny looked around her, not really looking at anything. “Where am I?” she asked. She had forgotten where she was. It is like your hair falling out. Strand by strand. As babies, we’re as bald and as empty as an egg shell. No memories, no hair. A clean slate ready to crawl, ready to stumble, ready to walk and ready to live. As we grow, so does our hair and so do our memories. We can style our hair, cut it to a desired shape. The memories are ours to mold. There are the ones we choose to forget, to change, to keep. But, with time, there is no choice. The hair falls from our head, strand by strand. The memories fade. Tenth grade fades. Your wedding day fades. The name of your grandson fades. Strand by strand they go. And then again, nothing is left but a bald and empty head. The thought of losing a sense of the past is a fear we all must face. Although, once we get there, we will not know. We fear death, but of course it is only the anticipation and the fear that weighs upon us. Only in conversation can I see in my grandmother’s face the pain because it is my cues that exploit what she cannot remember. And it pains me to think of what she has lost. We visit her as much as we can, but her days are mostly spent alone. It is when we are alone that we can reflect on our happiest hours. Imagine her loneliness when even her memories are gone. Though, as the mind implodes so do some of thoughts we wish to escape. Nanny lost her husband so maybe her Alzheimer’s helps her cope with that loss. It is sad to think that she would forget him at times, but it might give some relief from her mourning. I fear losing my memory because I fear losing myself. With what else can we be proud of or define ourselves by if not by past actions. I imagine an empty shell. Not being able to remember is like not being able to speak, to see, to feel. Without it, we are in the dark grasping for guidance. Memories help us make the decisions of today; they are the templates that make frying eggs and tying our sneakers easy. Nanny may forget my name but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If I beat her at a game of cards today, I don’t have to worry about her holding it against me tomorrow.