Her memory, at its peak, was more than a steel trap, it was a weapon that she used to slice through any argument or inconsistent story. You knew better than to challenge it. When it began to slip away, it was like seeing a super hero contracting into normalcy without the aid of a phone booth or a closet for secret transformation. We, as a family, didn't speak of it out of deference but it became more apparent over the years.
I always knew that this would happen. You see I dreamed about it almost twenty years ago. It wasn't spelled out clearly like a user's manual or a flow chart on a chalkboard but instead revealed symbolically as a telephone conversation. In the dream, it was one of those heavy Bakelite 1950s style rotary models. I could not reach her despite numerous attempts, dialing repeatedly and yelling into the receiver, growing more anxious and frustrated. There was no happy resolution and it left me feeling depressed after I awakened. Little did I know that it foretold the emotional concepts I would end up dealing with as my mother aged.
Our telephone conversations were almost always about food and the latest updates on family and friends. The memory slips were sometimes subtle, trying to remember a word, or they were glaring as if she did not remember who I was. That is really not as jarring as you might think when you come from a large family where names are switched often. “Wait, I'm not so-and-so. I'm fill-in-the-blank.” One learns to let it go. She also could still reach back with laser precision into the files for some stories from 60 or 70 years ago with all of the vividness as if it were yesterday.
Of course, it should be noted that I inherited her capacity to retain details in a superhuman way. Peers at school nicknamed me the professor or the computer. It was only a matter of paying attention, I guess. These days, in middle age, there is a battle with my memory. It wants to go on vacation to a tropical isle just as it's needed during a hectic day. Acceptance and forgiveness need to go both outward and inward.
Lately, when I tell her about social plans, she says, “Don't get lost.” I tell her not to worry and reassure her that I'm going to places that I'm familiar with and I know my way around but I think to myself that I already am.