The Softening of the Hard Drive
Anybody who has ever had children knows that mental capacity is not constant. Parents watch infants go from the awareness of a pet to doing calculus. In contrast we watch our own capacity transition from competency to “where are my glasses!?!” three times a day.
But it’s not just the gaining and losing of mental prowess that befuddles. It is the ongoing mutation of it. Many Boomers have seen our parents slip into a state where they cannot remember what was said five minutes ago, but have crystal clarity about a conversation they had in 1938. Once the full cycle of childrearing has been achieved, we are left with the twin realities that our issue’s infancy seems several lifetimes ago, but random moments of their presence in our lives pop up in our brains like a Magic Eight Ball fortune.
Even for those of us who never did hallucinogens, this phenomenon has evolved into literal “flash backs.” A “flash back” is not reminiscence; it’s not keyed to any specific image, sound, or smell. A true “flash back” happens spontaneously without provocation and when geriatric these events happen more and more frequently as the hard wiring of our brain seems to have had its insulation frayed enough to allow sporadic short circuiting.
Because of this synaptic silliness, I have reached out to others to determine if my brain burps are a shared phenomenon. Rather than a generic fishing expedition, I focus on my clearest recurring episode – high school football. I ask those who have played football at any level a simple question: “Do you have flashbacks?” Virtually every one of them has said yes – whether they are 80 or 20. Even with this unanimous response, this phenomenon is not limited to ex-football fellows like me who may be showing the effects of some intra-cranial brain-bouncing. But for us afflicted with this tribal back ground the experience is intense.
I can be walking to my car and all of a sudden I’m tackling a running back in Rochester in 1972. Not seeing myself from the sky as in a video, but actually physically putting my shoulder on the ball, wrapping, grabbing and exploding with my hips through him and dropping him. It happens in about two seconds, comes from nowhere, and goes away instantly. It happens with exactitude and unpredictability but never when I’m actually watching any game (live or on TV).
I seem to be experiencing this cross-wired event because it was downloaded at that tender age and that intensity of experience burns itself onto a young cranial hard drive to the point where it will evidence itself when the background noise of competing thought patterns ebb.
The fact that it now happens more frequently as do the distortions of the actual chronologic place of past events is ominous. My assumption is that as we age we deposit layer upon layer of new memories until a max-out is achieved and our hard drive becomes inexorably weakened.
When will a flashback cease to be a flashback and become an invented memory? When will the “where are my glasses,” change to “do I wear glasses?” When will the memories of raising my children seem like they were several generations ago, because they were several generations ago? And when will I remember conversations that I had in 1972 that I can’t remember now simply because they are buried in neurons that will get flushed away as my brain inevitably (and literally) shrinks?
My only hope is that over time either a neurological defragging or a chemical reboot will be created by those with a higher pay grade than me. In any event, I’d rather have had a life that has flashback-worthy memories than one that was not memorable – I just hope that in the future I can retrieve them to appreciate that fact…