The Power of Memory
Madison Jones, Division 3, College sophomore #ws17e-s1d3

“What do you differently than anyone else?” is a bit of a loaded question. I have always sort of accepted myself as alarmingly average and didn’t start to reflect or focus on my strengths and what sets me apart until relatively recently. I think that I am a fairly good writer; I’m not a bad singer; I know I’m a good and loyal friend. But these are things I know I have in common with plenty of other people; what do I do differently than anyone else? And without inflating my pride, I have to say, I remember things better than anyone I know.

I get this memory from my mother, who remembers crazy details that nobody around her can remember. It was like this my entire childhood; a song would come on the radio and she would call out, “Oh! This song was popular the fall of my freshman year of high school. I had just started dating a guy named Joe” or “this song was popular the year your dad and I got married!” And while for most of my life, she could recall things that I hadn’t the faintest recollection of, I think now I might just have her beat.

A game my friends like to play with is me is “when is everyone’s birthday?” because I can remember the birthday of everyone I meet after only hearing it once or twice. Everyone always asks me how I do it, and the truth is I don’t know. Some days just sort with people into my head, allowing me to remember them for the rest of my days. And by everyone, I really mean everyone, including celebrities and other famous people, too. A few weeks ago, my friend Chris decided he wanted to test me on this. He made a list of thirty celebrities and fictional characters, looked up their birthdays, and organized the two categories into a Microsoft Excel table that he then handed to me. “You have five minutes to memorize this,” Chris said. I studied Chris’s form for five minutes, and when time was up, he quizzed me. “I’m going to go out of order,” Chris said, “And I’m not going to tell you if you got it right.” He ran through the list and waited for my answers, and at the end he told me, “you got every single one right.” He was so impressed, he ran outside into the hall of the college dorm and told everyone he could find, even coming back to fetch me so I could do it again.

I remember birthdays, anniversaries, days of death, you name it, with startling clarity. I remember the birthdays of dogs I’ve met once, anniversaries of sisters and cousins I’ve never met, the dates celebrities I don’t care about died, and very many more. I can tell you what I did a year ago today, without hesitation (I went to a puppy store and watched the sunset at the beach, for those wondering). I can recall what I’ve done every September 2nd for the past five years. It’s not that anything significant even happened on that date, I just remember it.

It stretches outside of dates, too; I remember details from events that everyone else forgets. I remember songs that played; I remember things I said and things people told me. On a retreat with friends over a year ago, I remember distinctly hearing the song “Roses” by The Chainsmokers for the first time and asking two of my friends what song it was. Neither of them knew, and jokingly, I told them, “you are both worthless to me.” Once prompted, they both recall this instance, but not on their own. I can remember when I met almost every friend of mine and the circumstances surrounding our meeting, and the day I “officially” became friends with them (for those curious, the two friends mentioned in the previous sentence I became friends with on September 21st and November 13th, respectively). I know this all sounds too fantastic and unbelievable, but it’s all true.

While this can be a fun party trick and never ceases to impress the people around me, it can be a curse, as well. I remember good times and times I laughed so hard I cried with all the vibrancy as if it happened just now, but I also remember every terrible thing that happens to me, too. I remember almost the entire conversation of the break-up I had with the last boy I was seeing, and could point out exactly where we were standing at certain parts of our conversation. I remember the explosive end with my best friend my senior year of high school; in science class when she claimed I had betrayed her trust and stormed out of the classroom, never to speak to me again. My detailed memory allows me to replay moments like these and more, recalling every detail in perfect clarity. This means that a large part of the time, I tend to dwell in the past and obsess over the way people have hurt me (or, alternatively, the way that I have hurt other people). It takes me a lot longer to get over things than it does most people, which has long been a struggle and a source of insecurity for me, making me feel ashamed of how hurt I can get and how long it takes me to heal.

But recently, though, I’ve started to come to terms with how my heart heals and how I was made. I was blessed with an incredibly detailed memory that I am so thankful for. Who else can tell you everyone’s birthday, as well as their mom’s and their sister’s, after only hearing it once? So what if it takes me a lot longer to grieve and mourn the loss of friendships and relationships in the past? So what if I get stuck in past pains easier than most people do? I am learning not to be ashamed of my tender heart and I’m still learning how to use my memory as a tool for healing instead of using it to hold grudges. Again, I’m still learning, though, and still growing every day.

So, when you ask me what it is I do differently than everyone else, I have to say that I remember things better than anyone else. I’ve never met anyone quite like me, who can pinpoint the exact moments of collapse or celebration, who know exactly where they were when they first heard a certain song, who remembers birthdays or anniversaries or any date, really, as well as I do. I’m really proud of this fact, and really glad that I’ve been growing and I’m continuing to grow into my own skin and be comfortable with who I am.
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