Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Memory: Photo not available

Once, I forgot where I parked my car.  At LAX.

That was a problem.

If you’ve ever seen the parking structures at LAX you understand.  They form a sort of 3-D, M.C. Escher, house-of-mirrors kind of nightmare.

Sure, those configurations are commonplace at airports these days, but at that time I was a girl from Oklahoma who had only lived in Long Beach a few months.  I still couldn’t figure out how the forty-minute drive to the airport on the 405 Freeway north had me heading straight into the setting sun.  It went against the laws of nature. 

That was disconcerting enough, but on that particular day I was doing a favor for a friend.  I was picking up her friend, whom I’d never met.  My friend had an emergency and couldn’t meet her friend at the airport.

So I said sure.  I’ll go. 

Back in those days – Yes!  Tell us Granny Plath!  Tell us how it was back in the olden days!  
OK Dearies – Just imagine – You could walk right into the airport and directly up to the gate to meet your friends and loved ones as they exited their planes! 

No bare feet on cold tile.  No full-body public X-ray with arms in the air.  It was lovely. 

So I had a description of my friend’s friend.  She had a description of me.  We found each other and introduced ourselves and negotiated baggage claim and headed out to the parking garage.

Remember?  This is a story about finding one’s car in the maze of a concrete Overlook Hotel. 

And my memory failed me. 

Suffice it to say that it took a good long while to find the correct level in that labyrinth – H!  I’ve never forgotten it since.  And the right section – 8!  Appropriate somehow.   

And that was before wheels on luggage.  Before it was cool to travel light. 

By the time we found the car, I don’t think my friend’s friend liked me very much.

I haven’t seen her since.  The honest truth is, I don’t even remember who I was helping out that day!  Her name is a vapor.  I can’t call her face to mind at all. 

But I will never forget H-8 and the mortification.  That is the lasting memory lo! these many years later.

Memory experts say that if you attach emotion to a memory, or action to an image, it’s much more likely to stay with you.   

Which brings me to some recent mind games:

Each year I sit on an interview panel at my old school.  It’s a privilege to spend time with staff members whom I loved and respected during my tenure there.  So when the day is over, I send each one a little note of appreciation.

With note cards in hand, I began recreating my experience and writing, first to the teacher who sat on my right.  Then to the one on my left. 

Next I wrote to the Career Center Coordinator who sat across from me.  And finally, I prepared to write to the person next to her.

Who was a woman.  Pretty sure.  Past that, I had nothing.

OK.  Dark hair?

It’s not that I saw her face but didn’t remember her name.  Nope.  All I could see was a gray silhouette on white background like someone on LinkedIn who didn’t provide a profile picture.

Not to worry, I told myself.  It’ll come to me. 

I busied myself with the minutia of the day:  dishes, dusting – no memory.  Writing, walking – no idea who the heck I worked with for seven years and sat across the table from for three hours YESTERDAY! 

Retracing my steps in the aisles of my mind, pulling out the drawers of the card catalog…I’ve got to update this system!  How can I express my gratitude?!  Who was that?? 

No matter how hard I squinted my eyes, or how many Zen strategies I employed, she always came back:  Photo not available.

Finally, in a panic, I called the Career Center Coordinator.  “Who WAS that person sitting next to you?” I shrieked.  “Who was she?  Who was she??!”

“Oh!  Of course,” I said, regaining my composure.  “I remember now.  Thanks.”

That’s the kind of emotion that solidifies a memory.