The Forgotten Places In Between

Growing up my family moved a lot, a whole lot.  I attended three different first grade schools.  I also went to three different schools for the seventh grade.  I was lucky enough to stay in one school for grades sixth, ninth and twelfth.   All the others I attended two different schools each year.  But it’s a freaky mathematical problem of memory to tell you the total number of schools I attended.  For example, the third seventh grade school was also the first eighth grade school.  I just can’t remember all the overlaps.  For many years I was sure I went to two ninth grade schools, but I can only remember one now, so I only count the one.  If I live long enough, I wonder if I will forget them all, except the school of my last memory?

I’ve lost a school somewhere.  I know I lived in South Carolina twice, I just can’t remember when in my early timeline the first time was.  I can’t even remember if I went to school or not at the time.  I don’t remember going to school, which might means it was before I was five, but then we might have only stayed there during a summer.  It’s just forgotten.  I hate that my memory is as holey as Swiss cheese.

The lost memories I miss the most at the moment are the forgotten streets between favorite place memories.  Often I can remember two places but for the life of me I can’t remember how I got between those two places, even when I traveled those forgotten streets hundreds of times.  The haziness hurts.  I often have dreams of losing my way to places.  In real life I’ve always had a great sense of direction, loved maps, and never had trouble getting around.  But I’m always lost traveling between my memories.

For example, my last school was Miami Killian Senior High.  I started there sometime in the eleventh grade, but I’m not sure when, but probably sometime in early 1968.  My family had moved from Coconut Grove, where I was attending Coral Cables Senior High, to live in South Miami Heights.  I have a vague memory the address might have been 1234x South West 188th Street.

Now here’s one of my in between memory problem.  Each day, for over a year, I went to school at Miami Killian, then went to work at the Kwik-Chek back in the Coconut Grove, then drove back home to South Miami Heights at night.  That’s a lot of driving.  I don’t remember owning a car, not until later.  I remember borrowing my parent’s cars sometimes.  I remember hitch-hiking sometimes.  I remember riding the buses sometimes.  I remember getting rides sometimes from my parents or friends.  But I don’t remember going between those three places, and the routes I took.  I’ve forgotten all the places in between being at home, being at school and being at work.

In the forty-five years since, all those in between memories have been erased.  I wasn’t paying attention, so I don’t remember when.  I do know about fifteen years ago going back to Miami and getting my old pal Connell to drive me around to all those locations, my house, school and work.  This was thirty years after the fact.  Everything looked different, if not unrecognizable.  For the life of me, I couldn’t have found my way between any of those three locations on my own.  And I had driven them hundreds of times in the distant past.  I had walked along those street hitch-hiking, or waiting on buses.  Those streets should have been burned into my mind.

I’ve been thinking about this for years.  It bugs me I can’t remember how I got between memories.  It bugs me that my memories are like little fluffy clouds separated by a mysterious void.

Think about it.  How many in between places can you remember?  I’m guessing you lucky folks who grew up and lived one place your whole life, that you didn’t forget the in between places.  But maybe not.  Let me know.

I still have a lot of memories.  Places where I lived.  Places where I worked.  Homes of friends and families.  Schools, libraries, favorite places to shop or eat.  But here’s the thing – I’ve forgotten all the places in between.  And in a few cases, I’ve forgotten some of the the places too.  That a primary location has melded in with the forgotten in between places.

I’ve always been fascinated by the brain, the mind and memories.  We can think of ourselves as a computer and we’re born with a hard drive of limited capacity.  That old saying that we only use 5% of our brain is pure bullshit.  We fill our brains pretty damn fast, and somewhere inside of our heads are subroutines to delete old memories to make room for new ones.  I don’t think it’s ever a conscious decision about what we get to keep.  What’s strange is the mental mechanism is not perfectly efficient.  How often has an old memory popped up, one you haven’t thought about in decades?  We’re lucky to have those little surprised memories, because somehow they’ve been saved from the memory munching recycling program.

Sometimes I fantasize about being a robot that can control and manage all its memories.  But even robots would have limited storage space to save daily experiences.  That’s the difference between robots and people.  We aren’t told when a memory is going to be thrown away, but a robot will have to decide for itself.  I guess when we’re sleeping, when we’re dreaming, our brain decides what to overwrite.  Think of all those thousands and thousands of 9 to 5 work hours, of zillions of dish washing hours, or times mowing lawns, or studying algebra.  Our subconscious mind finds so much we do easy to forget, and I’m glad of that.  Who’d want to remember everything?

So why does it trouble me that my soul has thrown out all the brain recordings of going between places?  Why do I ache to remember them so much?  I’m a linear person and just want to remember my life as one long path.  Instead it’s a jumble of puzzle pieces.  

What if our brains, or even robot brains, worked like DVRs, and recorded over the oldest memories first.  We’d all slowly forget our earliest years and we’d have a constantly growing stretch of amnesia to ponder.

No, we have selective forgetfulness.  And evidently, a choice space to erase are the memories of traveling between our strongest memories.  So in the end, all we have left is isolated islands of strong memories.  And, we don’t even get to keep all of them.  Even my essential memories of places I cherish most, are being eroded by my dreaming mind’s memory mulcher.

Damn analog mind.

It’s a good thing we’re evolving digital minds.  Robots will have different memory management than we do.  They will be able to compress and store their memories more efficiently, and even off-load them for long term storage.  Can you imagine being a robot and replaying a day from a century ago?  Right now, it would be nice to load up a memory of my trip to school one morning back in 1968, then play the trip from school to work, and then from work to home.  I made those trips hundreds of times, it would be nice to remember some of them, even one of them.

FLASHBACK!

The mind is a marvelous thing.  Like the old adage, ask and receive, a memory has just floated to the surface as I wrote this blog.

I even remember the road’s name, Old Cutler Road.  I remember driving home in the dark after work, after 10pm and listening to “Hey Jude” on the AM radio.  I remember singing along and banging my hands on the steering wheel.  “Hey Jude” came out August 26, 1968.  I remember the windows being down and muggy cool air blowing over me.  I remember being dirty and sweaty from work, and the air cooling it clean. 

My last job every night at the Kwik Chek was to sweep and mop the floor, and then burn outdated food in the incinerator.  I’d always buy two 16 ounce Cokes to drink on the way home because I was so thirsty.  I always guzzled the first one as I left the building, and then nurse the second one on the ride home.  I love the drive home, going through old Coconut Grove, driving through mostly dark back roads, sometimes smelling the ocean by Matheson Hammock in the distance. 

I loved listening to the radio, because 1968 was a great time for music.  I’d constantly switch between WQAM and WFUN.  My mind was very active on the drive.  I was always hyper after getting off work.  I was sixteen and thinking about a girl name Nancy Morris that I went out with some.  But I also thought about my friend Connell who worked at the Kwik Chek too.  But these imagined thoughts are just speculation.  I have no memory of thinking anything particular.  But I do remember I loved being alone driving through the darkness, with the radio cranked, blasting out “Hey Jude” and drinking my Coco Cola.

Thank you subconscious, thanks for saving that one memory.  In case you recycle that space, I have it here.

old-culter-road

JWH 3/8/13

5 Responses

  1. Man you moved around so much. Did you ever bother unpacking? I wouldn’t have. I just had such a different experience, I lived in the same house from when I was 4 years old until I was 18.

    So yeah I remember a lot about my neighborhood, the shops and the restaurants, and walking home from school.

    But sometimes we forget things like that because they aren’t really worth remembering. Hopefully we remember the important things.

    I had two friends that I used to hang out with in middle school. Well, we ended up going to different High Schools so I didn’t see either of them after middle school.

    But the weird thing is they still show up in my dreams sometimes. We’ll just be hanging out like old times. Then I wake up and I’m like “Where the heck did that come from?”

  2. Before reading about the flashback I was thinking: most of the commuting time you were probably reading, and I bet you remember most of those books!

  3. Do you think the mind overwrites memories? or keeps them somewhere or other inaccessible? One day I”m sure there’ll be storage for such problems – it’ll be memory overload! I have a rotten memory, for the record.

    • I feel the mind must overwrite memory. How much can you remember about yesterday? Some people have “photographic” memory, but even these people have limitations. I think the old adage, use it or lose it, applies especially well to our memories.

  4. Jim, sorry, I meant to comment on this weeks ago. (I read your posts in my email, but don’t always get here to comment – not in a timely fashion, certainly.)

    What bugs me about memory is how unreliable it is. Even when you remember something from your past, you can’t be sure your brain didn’t just make up some of it – or even most of it. From what I hear, memories aren’t stored the way data is stored on computer disks, and it’s very easy to invent memories, even by accident.

    Unskilled therapists can “uncover buried memories” that didn’t happen at all. Unskilled investigators – especially when dealing with children – can cause people to “remember” things that are indistinguishable from real memories. This kind of thing has even been demonstrated in classrooms.

    At the very least, when you remember some vivid incident from your past, your brain is likely to have embellished it, filling in the details in some logical way. Those details might be very believable, because they do make sense, even when it’s not really memory, but just your brain filling in the gaps.

    I find that fascinating, but a bit disturbing, too. My long-term memory isn’t good, but to think that it’s also completely unreliable, even when I do remember something, is really too much. :)

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