Saturday, December 12, 2009

Not Always the Elephant

Those who'd known me a long time, I imagine, would, sometimes, marvel at my memory. It isn't unusual that I would remember the tiniest, the most insignificant things and events that took place years ago. I remember, for instance, the lecture in my Psychology 101 course, in which the lecturer delivered a lesson on short-term memory. The average person's short-term memory, she said, stores 7 items. She presented an example (yes, I remember the example she used) of a person who goes to a party and has people he didn't know introduced to him. He could easily remember the first 7 people he met, but when he is told the name of the 8th new friend, he would likely forget the name of the first. I wonder if it works the same for faces, and if it does, why it won't apply to me. Here's the story:

I was freshly enrolled at college, and as each new student was, was assigned a mentor, who was a lecturer I'd never heard of. Though I wasn't exactly sure what a mentor was really meant for, or if I actually needed one, I knew I had to meet him at least once, for I was given a slip of paper on which I had to have his signature. After a round of asking seniors, I found out where his faculty room was, and made my way there. I walked into a quiet office where several well-dressed gentlemen, presumably lecturers, sat at work. I must had looked really small and lost, for within moments, one of them approached me and asked me who I was looking for. I said my mentor's name. The nice gentleman then told me, "He's not here at the moment. Maybe you could come back in a while?" I thanked him and left the office. I took my time, wandered around for an hour or so, and went back to the faculty room. More courageous this time around, I approached the first lecturer I set my eyes on and asked for my mentor. Once more, I was told he wasn't there. Being suddenly in a conversational mood, I rambled on about how I was there earlier, and someone told me to come back in a while. He looked at me curiously, and said "Well... yes, I was that someone who told you that." Being overwhelmed by embarrassment must be a condition during which nothing registers in the long-term memory, because I simply cannot remember what ensued.

Perhaps it would make sense to say I remember better people and/or things that actually matter. This is because there had been numerous times, in my college and university days, where I'd met "strangers" on sidewalks, stairways, anywhere, and had them smile at or greet me in ways that suggest they were not really strangers, but were surely not friends either. After a while, I got really good at pretending I know them too - or so I thought. Here's another story:

I was in a washroom on campus, washing my hands, and noticed in the mirror a girl I don't recognise, at the next wash basin, smiling at me. I smiled warmly back. She started some small talk and I played along. I was starting to take pride in how well I was doing, when she stopped abruptly and stared at me, a mix of bewilderment and amusement clearly in her eyes. Her friendly smile turned teasing, "You don't remember me, do you?" Once again, I have no recollection of what ensued.

Just today, I discovered my memory also has blind spots, if you could call them that. I came across a friend of a friend with a very familiar pseudonym. I know it because he used the exact same for his ICQ account TEN years ago, when we were still in touch. I met him at a camp organized by our college's student representative council. We were in the same team, along with the girl from Christian Fellowship. Each team had to present a short sketch, and for ours, we prepared a "medley" of scenes from Evita, where the guys did all the acting and the girls did all the singing. We were a hit because everyone nearly laughed till they rolled on the beach when 'Evita' (a guy wrapped in sarong) appeared for the 'balcony' (a guy with arms extended on either side, draped over entirely by a white bedsheet) scene, and we sang Don't Cry For Me Argentina; and laughed even harder when 'Evita' died, and we sang You Must Love Me. I remember it all - and yet I can't, if my life depended on it, remember this guy's name.

No, I don't think I deserve to be known as one who has the memory of an elephant. The matriarch of a herd of elephants is said to be able to remember and to locate a place abundant in food and water, even after having not been there for several decades. I have been known to be unable to locate my car after leaving it in the shopping complex's carpark for several hours.

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