entry_203How many individual things are we able to remember at once–without resorting to unholy trickery, that is? At any given time, the experts will tell you, we can keep between five and nine things in mind, on average. That’s another interesting piece of trivia to tuck away, but it’s actually not what I’m talking about. I mean what is the sum total of things that we can know? Is there an end to it? We must assume there is an upper limit, owing to the brain’s finite mass. And if a brain is like my attic then we must also assume that, as it reaches maximum capacity, it’s not so much the size of the object you’re trying to stuff up there, but the shape of it as well. Any new thought, in other words, would have to be able to fit in among the other notions, in form as well as size. It follows then that at some point you can only accept certain types of information, which, considering my elders, is just about as accurate a theory as any other I’ve been able to devise.

Regardless, the reason this thought is occupying so much of my mind is due to a list that I can’t forget. Because I am a slothful creature by nature, I’ve always clustered tasks–those things that must get done–into as short a time as possible, the better to have done with them. As I run my internal audit, which usually happens while I’m in the shower, I string together an unwieldy list of activities that I’ll try to maintain by repeating them like a mantra. “Marinate the tempeh, add memory to the Palm, necklace for sister… Marinate the tempeh,” and so on. Invariably, when the list grows too long, errors begin to creep in. Words cannibalize themselves, and I am subject to involuntary spoonerism episodes. This must be what dementia is like.

The sheer bulk of information necessitates that I pare back to bare essentials. “Marinate, memory, necklace,” et cetera. These optimized lists are much more manageable, and sometimes they’re even catchy. But that’s the problem, see. If they’re too catchy then the lists can bridge the gap between short term memory and long term memory, and suddenly I find myself weaving these one-time lists–agendas shortly to become obsolete–into the very tapestry that makes me who I am.
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The turbulent tides of high school were a shock to the system after a languorous summer spell. I had meant to prepare myself by visualizing just how different life would be there, in contrast to the easily-mastered halls of the lesser junior high across the way. But it didn’t strike me just how lost I would feel until I found myself, textbooks in hand, wandering through a maze of twisty little passages. The few friends I’d cultivated at the previous school seemed scattered to the winds, so when I spotted Robbie Osberg sitting alone at one of the lunch tables I hurried over.

Robbie wasn’t one of the main characters from the small group I considered friends, but then neither was I. We were the background characters–the ones who took part in other peoples’ stories–serving only to round out the group, to give it that stable cohesion. So naturally I asked Robbie if he’d managed to spot one of the primaries. “Hey,” I said. “Man, this place is big. I haven’t even seen Jeff or Ari or Mike. Have you?”

“Oh no you don’t,” Robbie said. “That’s it.” And he proceeded to gather his books and tray and slide them around to the next table, his back to me.

I was dumbfounded. He had reacted as if I were covered in the blood of his parents, certainly not the kind of greeting one might expect after a three month absence. He was joking, that was it. I picked up my books and sat down across from him. “So… did you have a good vacation?” Cautiously.

“I’m not talking to you,” he said, and ate his tater tots with joyless eyes.

A girl at the next table flicked a glance toward us, then instantly looked away. Now I was frustrated, and a little scared. Had I done something to him and forgotten about it? Had I disparaged him in some way without realizing it? Or had I allowed for a lapse of some kind? But no, that wasn’t possible. Robbie and I had barely had a relationship of our own. We’d simply been part of the same group, and had always been friendly toward one another. So why such a violent reaction? “What’s going on, Robbie?”

He only shook his head dismissively, rolling his eyes.

“Are you mad at me?” I asked. “Because I haven’t seen you since last year, so…” Nothing out of him. He’d put up a wall a foot thick, and I was on the outside. I tried one final time: “Are you okay?” Still no response. I might just as well have been talking to myself.
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