There are images that stick in my mind that are so unimportant I can’t imagine why I remember them. And they stay for decades.
A highschooler in track team uniform puts on a burst of speed to outrun a friend. That’s it. No beginning and no end. I didn’t know either of the people.
It’s something like a dream, but I know it wasn’t. I can show you where I was standing at the time. Besides, dreams can be significant at some level; this image is meaningless for me. But for whatever reason, the shutter in my brain snapped at that moment, and the image was recorded somewhere in its billions of cells.
My uncle is in the Navy, 1943. Visiting us, he goes down the steps from the street taking his whites to the apartment house basement where there’s a washing machine.
We’re walking the family dog in an overgrown lot favored by dog-walkers An exotic-looking butterfly perches on a leaf. To get a closer look at it, a man hits it with the end of the leash in his hand and destroys it.
A day at the beach with friends. The reflection of the sun bounces off the water a particular way. I’ve been to the beach hundreds of times; why do I remember this day? Nothing special happened. Thirty years earlier, a different beach: a lifeguard gathers half-a-dozen of us kids one evening and hands out sets of commemorative stamps showing, if I remember this part right, pictures of state capitols. It’s bizarre; I couldn’t have explained it even then, but I remember it.
The “snap of the shutter” has to be more than just an analogy; I think something resembling that must really happen, physically or chemically. The image is set in just that moment, and it remains. There’s a lot of research going on today into how the brain works; I’d like to see someone pick up on this. I’d volunteer to strap on the electrodes.
Does it happen that way to everyone? That would be my guess, but I could be wired in some strange way. Then, too, I’ve heard that one of the first signs of dementia is increasingly vivid memory of past events. I think it’s accompanied by forgetfulness of current ones, but I don’t remember that happening.