We all have memories, and different things activate the engrams, or memory traces stored in specific brain cells in our hippocampus which allow us to remember the past. I remember mine in two vivid ways……I call them my quilt and my soundtrack. The quilt is knit from the memory of the clothes that were worn at those moments, and the soundtrack is the music playing in the background. Smells also invoke memories, especially comfort foods and family recipes, but for me, the visual and aural are strongest.
My quilt is a patchwork which includes the gray sweatshirt the cold one wore on our first date, the black top with sequins I wore the night I risked more than I should have, the jeans that ripped the night I was assaulted, the jeans and shirt I donated after the date I pretended did not happen, the dresses I wore to high school, and two college graduations, the wedding dress, the dress my baby girl wore to my 2005 college graduation and many more. The quilt is for me, ingrained. I remember events by the clothes people wore, not just what I wore. I remember my ex-boyfriend’s favorite shirts, the pajamas my daughter did not want to grow out of, my son’s Finding Nemo swim trunks he wore to Island Park, and the bikini my daughter wore to the same. When I see those clothes, they invoke the smells, sounds, feelings I had when we wore them. Sometimes I cannot continue to wear the clothes because the memory is too intense and painful, and it’s like wearing the quilt of my life; Goodwill is the happy recipient of my memories, and I pass them on hoping that they bring someone else new, improved engrams.
The soundtrack is unavoidable though. UGH. The songs on the radio….so sad right? Adele. The Cure. Journey. 311. Melissa Etheridge. Pink. When I hear them, sometimes I am in such a happy place I can just smile wistfully at the remembrance, but other times, when I’m not in a good space emotionally, it can tear me all the way down to tears. We all know that Adele is borderline suicide music anyway, all about the codependency I fight against and the pain of loving someone too much. Music I think, is a universal trigger, and some words make us just wish we weren’t in our skin at that moment, that we could change the station or run away from it. I know there are times I cannot change the station and I have to sit or stand there and listen to a song that I don’t want to hear; at that point I try to disconnect myself from the memory. Scientists say that we can use our executive function in the frontal cortex to actively suppress memories, so obviously the ones we remember by song, happy and sad, are ones our mind wants to remember.
My daughter was shocked at the extensive nature of my quilt and soundtrack, the detail with which I can remember songs, clothing and the when and where they intersected. Is it the poet in me? Am I an unknowing artist of memories, with vivid movie-like playback of my life in my mind? Is everyone secretly like me, but they don’t voice their descriptions because they lack the words or desire to put the pieces together? What I know is that I appreciate this ability more than I growl at it, because I have such fantastic recall of the best moments of my life and I hope that I can carry them with me forever.