Monday, July 23, 2007

How Can I Get A Memory Out Of My Head?

This is my fourth answer to the weird questions I asked about a week ago. I allow myself just 15 minutes to respond and whatever I write during this time I post here (sometimes with the minimum amount of editing).

I have many memories I would like to remove completely. Just the thought of them makes me squirm in my seat: the time I asked a teacher where she got a prism of glass that made rainbows on the desk, then for some reason became so stupidly shy I ran away without waiting for the answer; the time I sang out of turn during a choir performance; and the time I ran into a motorcyclist in the dark. He smashed into my windscreen and rolled over my car and then lay on the road as if dead - but he wasn't, thank God. So yes, there is much to expunge - so how am I going to accomplish this?

I suppose that in order to get a memory out of my head I will need to know first where it is stored. Some memories are stored in the folds and crevasses of the outer brain, the gyrus and the clefts of the cerebral cortex. A touch on this grey wrinkled surface with a surgeon's probe can rouse them into life so maybe a heated wire can exorcise them into oblivion. Each embarrassing incident, each hurt that is still tender after months and weeks, could be picked out and discarded like an unwanted shoot.

However this would only work on simple memories - a single incident perhaps - neatly formed and separate. Most memories are more complicated. They are intermingled with emotions and other memories with deep roots and entangled connections and to cauterize one might cause a loss too severe to contemplate.

New memories are stored elsewhere. They are swept away and buried deep inside a tiny structure shaped like a seahorse called the hippocampus. Nerves branch and grow new buds until there is a thicket too complicated to disentangle. These, I fear, would be a lost cause. The only solution might be to wait until winter and the leaves are shed and the memory shunted off to somewhere more accessible.

It is a strange and perplexing thought that all these memories are produced by tiny cells firing and connecting. These same cells ensure that I move my hands to catch a ball before I've even consciously registered that the ball exists and is falling towards me: I see, I act and then I become aware.

For days after I'd hit the motorcyclist I returned to the spot close to my home. It seemed to me he'd come from nowhere because by the time I'd consciously registered the crash I was a couple of metres down the road away from the junction. Only gradually I came accept what had happened. His lights weren't on so I couldn't see him. He had been driving on the road and hadn't been able to stop. If I think about it I can still remember his scream as the ambulanceman stretchered him from the road. That is one of my memories I would like to erase but it is not the worst. My worst memories are so bad I never talk about them but they are there all the time - the collection of neurons forever entangled with despair. The motorcyclist got away with a few broken bones and later recovered. He was lucky and so, perhaps more so, was I.


Blogger Susanna said...

I found this very touching.

I hate memories that come at you when you are trying to go to sleep. I was thinking about this as I took a nap this afternoon and I was trying to think of one of those moments that you you squirm and you know I was to exausted to to think of one.

I like the thought of working till your to tired to think, sometimes I just want to fall into bed because I worked so hard that day. That may be my answer for myself when I worry about what is going to happen when it takes 3 glasses of wine instead of two.

Tue Jul 24, 05:54:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks S, yes I agree those memories are definitely the worst. You lie there and they come at you and there is nothing you can do to make them go away. You know it is stupid, but you do it anyway. Many things we can do nothing about. They will just happen whatever we do and maybe the best thing to do is sit back and drink that extra glass...

Tue Jul 24, 11:25:00 am  

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