I don’t know if there have been any scientific studies on this subject or not, but I’m convinced that some people are just better remember-ers than others. And I’m not talking about things like names or dates, or where I put my car keys. I’m talking about specific, detailed memories of events that happened a long time ago. I, for example, can remember only very general details of my past – what my third grade classroom looked like, or what I wore to my senior prom, but I can’t actually remember anything about third grade, and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what happened at my senior prom (although, admittedly, that might have less to do with my memory and more to do with my intoxication level on that particular evening). My brother, on the other hand, can recall exact conversations from when he was twelve, and could probably tell you the entire curriculum of his third grade school year.
This used to make me kind of sad, and for a while, I even wondered if maybe something horrible had happened to me and my brain had blocked out entire chunks of my life as a self-defense mechanism. But then I got in touch with some old friends, and we, of course, began to talk about old times, and I found that, when prompted, I actually did remember quite a bit. I realized that I might not have the capacity for spontaneous recall, but the hard drive in my head hadn’t been totally erased; it just needed to be coaxed into cooperating.
Now, around this time of the year, I always become nostalgic; blame it on Auld Lang Syne, but come December 20th or so, I turn into an old-memory junkie. I’ve got a bad habit of breaking out my senior yearbook at two o’clock in the morning and bawling uncontrollably over how quickly the time has gone from then to now. I spend hours Googling people I haven’t thought of in years, and I troll iTunes for the ‘80s songs that made up the soundtrack of my youth. It’s amazing how just a few bars of Foreigner Four's Urgent can transport me to my friend Stacy’s living room, or how Let’s Get Physical carries me straight to Karen Saltzman’s basement. Listening, I close my eyes, and the memories flood through my veins, as if I’d just done a shot of heroin.
This year, however, I’ve discovered something even more powerful than graduation photos and old songs to fuel my New Year’s nostalgia binge; I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite childhood books. I spent about six hours and fifty bucks on Amazon one night, and four days later I received a box of filled with some of my most cherished former companions. Bridge To Terabithia, The Westing Game, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, The Pigman, The Girl With the Silver Eyes, Forever… – these were books that I read over and over and over again when I was a kid.
True to my nature, I didn’t remember what most of them were about, exactly, until I picked them up and started reading. But when I did, the words were immediately familiar, the characters like old friends who hadn’t changed a bit. And as I read, I found myself back on the beach in Atlantic City , at overnight camp during rest period, or in my bedroom, under the covers at midnight with a flashlight in my hand. But the best part was that, in rediscovering these books, I also rediscovered prior versions of myself. There’s the ten year-old, who identified so strongly with Margaret, or the thirteen year-old who didn’t quite understand why Katherine and Michael were so excited about a pill. I remember the eight year-old who insisted that