Gone but Not, Um. . .

By Jill Storey
Sunday, May 29, 2005

I recently celebrated my 50th birthday. Along with the usual cards and gifts, I got a nasty surprise: My memory filed for divorce. Smack in the middle of memory-making season, with graduations and weddings and confirmations coming thick and fast, he up and left me.

I should have seen it coming. He had been distant for a while. Once, I drove halfway home from the grocery store before my memory snippily reminded me that I'd left the bag -- filled with fresh pasta, cheeses and, oh yes, mocha-chip ice cream -- sitting on the sun-baked curb. Another time, he embarrassed me in front of my 11-year-old daughter by hiding my knowledge of improper fractions. And I was truly miffed when I was reading Stendhal's "The Red and the Black," and he waited until Chapter 19 to clue me in that I had read it in college and hated it then, too.

I suppose I wasn't entirely blameless. Over time, I had come to take my memory for granted. He was so loyal, so accommodating, that I thought nothing of letting other people borrow him. My children used him constantly to remind them when their library books were due or to locate their soccer shoes. My husband -- who had once dated a memory but decided he just couldn't commit -- relied upon mine to remember everything from his shirt size to his Aunt Martha's birthday, and whether it was broccoli or Brussels sprouts that gave her hives. Even my sister begged my memory now and then to retrieve events from her childhood. Anyone's memory would have felt stretched thin. But did that justify his neglecting to inform me that I was supposed to drive carpool for my son's field trip?

As he continued to withdraw, I did what any spurned partner would do: I strayed outside the relationship in search of support. It began with an innocent flirtation with speed dialing. I used it only for emergencies, but our effortless connection made me realize how much was missing with my own memory.

So when a buffed Palm Pilot came my way, wearing black leather and winking provocatively, I couldn't keep my hands off his buttons. We engaged in a little PDA when I stopped at red lights. We shared intimacies in restaurants, parks, little side streets whose names I've since forgotten. He was so much more responsive than my own memory, I almost considered running off with him. But then I realized the limitations of my new beloved: 32 megabytes, to be exact. Plus, his battery ran out at the most inconvenient moments.

So I renewed my commitment to my memory. I vowed not to neglect him any more. We enrolled in an exercise program together, running through the exports of South American countries and doing some heavy lifting with my high school yearbook.

But it was too late. He announced he had met a younger woman with firm synapses, and they were planning to tour the capitals of Europe together, beginning with Amsterdam. I begged him not to leave. I reminded him of all we'd been through together. Remember 11th grade chemistry, I asked, when we aced the final, missing only molybdenum on the periodic table? (We'd laughed about it then: Who needs molybdenum anyway?) Please, I beseeched him, I can't live without you!

He was deaf to my pleas. He packed his suitcase with half my vocabulary, most of U.S. history and my locker combination at the gym, and left, snatching my lawyer's name from the tip of my tongue before he slammed the door.

Afterward, I discovered that my collection of lyrics from pre-1980 Broadway musicals was missing. I suspect he sold it on eBay for a tidy sum, but I can't prove it. And I can't remember now what happened during my late teens and early twenties. The memories were of purely sentimental value, but I had hoped to pass them down to my children.

When I called my shrink for advice, she said there were cases of recovered memory, but it would take years of analysis and even then all she could promise were recollections of childhood trauma. Move on, she said. Forget about him.

Who? I asked.

Author's e-mail:jillstorey@aol.com

Jill Storey has written for Salon, Ms., the San Francisco Chronicle and a bunch of other publications whose names she can no longer remember. She lives in San Francisco.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company