Yet another post about memory. Some redundant points, possibly. But they’re today’s points just as they were last week or month’s points. And you get movie reviews.
The movie Big Fish used to make me cry. It’s been a while since I’ve cried, though, even when watching that movie. To me the saddest part of the movie is that this person is known for such a great imagination and so many tales. In the end he was loved by all but some of those who loved him the most saw him as a teller of tall tales and nothing else. I can identify with that. Many times in my life I’ve gone on the road less travelled. Or I’ve experienced interesting things. Or even just daily routines that I can write into a grand adventure. I enjoy writing, I enjoy telling stories, and I enjoy having a remarkable spark or angle in those stories.
But I work very hard to be able to tell a great story without lying. My years as a college dropout, my years in the Marine Corps, even my career years working with technology have all contributed to the very large bucket of anecdotes from which I pull when I want to tell a story. Most of them are interesting enough to me that they don’t need embellishment. And when I tell a story that actually happened, I want it to be true so I work hard to make it true. But I often feel like I’m not always believed, that these yarns are my blowing a small situation into a large situation.
So at the end of Big Fish, we see who shows up for this man’s funeral, and without spoiling too much the people who come to the funeral from far and wide are many of the people in the stories. Some of them are exactly as we were shown. Some are normal people, some are a bit more unique. And even more aren’t exactly as they were in the stories, but lie just a few inches from reality. And finally his son and others see that he didn’t make up all the stories of his life. And that he will be remembered for those stories, not just by those he told them to, but also by the actual people in the narrative. This hits me very hard, wanting to be remembered for good things, and for a long time. I am not wont to invent something amazing or write the next Great American Novel. So I would like for the memories of me be for the stories I tell of my life, if my life isn’t memorable enough on it’s own.
So that’s the joy of memory and growing older and passing on memories to others. Not to mention living your life with the ability to use memories to look back and feel the good and bad that has happened in your life.
Not at all as famous or well known, is a movie called Little Fish. A few actors you’ve heard of, most you haven’t. It held a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes in the weeks after it came out, which is no small feat. The pre-COVID plot has to do with a virus hitting the world which makes the victim forget. At first little things, but as it progresses, even the memories of those you love, or are married to, or related to simply drift out of your memory. Many people are left caring for their partners just as a couple would support each other if one of them had Alzheimer’s. The protagonists are a young couple, not so young that they’re crazy 20somethings, but not so old that they have started slowing down. They both have a great, wicked sense of humor, and he is a photographer, constantly taking pictures.
It’s a great COVID-like parallel in that it affects the world but not like a nuclear bomb. A slow, strong, invasive impact. But I watched this couple do their best, use the tools they could to keep his memory intact. The patience she showed was spectacular, and like any human, there were times she was short on patience. But always calmed, connected with him, and did her best to help him be at peace, even while his memory falters.
It’s something I see in my wife. Many of the interactions between the main couple remind me of many of the experiences my wife and I have had recently with my memory. The movie focused on those little interactions, and that’s part of what makes it special. It’s extremely personal, without being too much of anything.
Dory, the Blue Tang
In the last few months, thanks to some moderately intensive physical therapies and a generous cocktail of prescriptions, I have been having memory issues. I’ve gone through something like this before a couple years ago, but it all seemed somehow elastic. I had things to forget, and things to remember. There wasn’t a system to it, it was fairly random.
My current memory issues have been a bit harder. A week or two ago we went to visit some relatives on my wife’s side of the family. I had never met them before, and it was in a suburb very close to my childhood home. We met them and had a nice meal, apparently their coffee was just amazing, and they told us so many family stories. The meeting was on a weekend after one of my physical therapies, so it should have been fine. But it was a week after that someone in my family mentioned the visit. I had no memory of it. Not the people, not the house, not the location, not even the amazing coffee. All gone, like it had never happened, not like I knew it and forgot it, it simply wasn’t there. Even with some memory exercises and discussions about the details, today it is still just a blurry, far away memory.
The assumption is that I’ll be fine, eventually. What strikes me about Little Fish is how well it showed people ignoring, covering up, or facing their missing memories. Some as simple as not remembering a small detail, others as large as a touring musician forgetting how to play an instrument. It’s the look in his wife’s eyes when she asks the typical questions as a test for him. “What is her name? How old is she? What is her favorite color?” She was clear enough, kind enough, but the look in her eyes betrayed the fact that she was worried about, counting on, and sad about the inevitable disconnect between two people. I have seen my wife look at me with eyes asking a normal question but pleading with her look, or even just how she sees me when I’m struggling.
The one that got away
Last night we went to our neighbor’s house and had a few drinks with them and another couple they know from college. We were interested in talking to them about some shared experiences we had with raising a unique child. And just laughing with everyone about the interesting ways being empty nesters has changed our lives. It was nice.
I was tired. It had been a long day, and this was actually a bit more social than I was used to. It was nice to be there, but I like talking, and had a few difficult moments. I would be telling a story, or talking about our experience and perspective with raising children, when out of nowhere it all just went away. That’s what it feels like. Almost as if you have a script or talking notes in front of you all the time, and at some point it disappears. You’re just sitting there and everyone is looking at you expectantly, waiting for the next funny quip or even just the end of an unfinished sentence. But you don’t even have an idea what you were talking about, much less where you were in the story. Sometimes you can fake it, other times you own up to it. But that’s exactly what happened, at least twice. And those are moments that make me feel like absolutely nothing. More.
My wife usually sees it as it’s happening so there’s no fooling her. She helps me as she can, reminding me when I ask. But every time she does, I am grateful and guilty. I can only think of everything she has been through, and how much could be coming down the road. Which sends me just a bit further down my road.
That was a long winded way to recommend both Big Fish and Little Fish, and maybe hints that Finding Nemo might be worth a watch. Big Fish is a movie that may make you cry with it’s happy ending. Little Fish gives you a sense of the challenges of memory loss. And could give you a view into some of my own issues.