Goeun Park: Memory is a grand thing – she thinks
In moments of great desperation, I used to wish for temporary amnesia so I had an excuse to avoid tests, “grown-up” responsibilities, and the like.
Of course, that was possibly the most senseless thing anyone could ever wish for and thankfully, that delusional fantasy never manifested into reality.
While I never acquired amnesia, I am cursed with an exceptionally horrible ability to remember what I did an hour ago, nevermind what I was doing this time a year ago.
(Ironically, history is my best subject. I don’t know how this works. Perhaps if my life were a chapter from Medieval European History, I’d have a better time keeping track of it.)
One of the many tragedies due to my spectacularly selective memory is that I have no right to call myself a ’90s kid. My earliest memory only goes back to the summer of 2001.
In my head, that particular memory goes like this: I’m two inches underwater for too long before someone, possibly one of my aunts, fishes me out and carries me to shore. I can taste salt and seaweed in places I’m not supposed to taste. I cough several times before throwing up the ocean on my toes.
That is my first and last memory of South Korea. But that’s probably not what really happened.
In recent years, neuroscientists have determined that the more often we recall a specific memory, the more our brain distorts it. That’s to say, the past doesn’t change but our memories do.
My parents can’t verify or refute what happened that day so the only thing I have as proof is my traitorous brain. It’s quite possible (if not probable) that my near-death experience wasn’t quite so dramatic. The only thing I’ll ever be certain of is that it was traumatic enough to make its mark. The details — they are nothing more than embellishments.
As I get older, recollections of my childhood seem to get dimmer and dimmer. They start to disappear. I struggle to tell apart which memories are real and which memories are pieced together in my head using pictures, second-hand accounts and my own imagination. Usually, they’re a mix of mostly the former and a pinch of the latter.
I wonder if remembering things less accurately will make them those memories less special. I wonder if people can go crazy thinking they remember things that never happened.
I hope not.
After 12 years, the memory of that possibly fatal summer day on the beach has faded. The details are either fuzzy or gone. Twelve years from now, these summer days when I wrote for the local newspaper and worked at Castaway and prepared for college will also draw empty spaces.
I think I’ll learn to live with my imperfect collection of memories. Besides, by the time I’m thirty, I’ll probably be too busy with casually saving the world to ruminate over every gritty detail from today. Probably.