The Freezer That Rang and Other Tales of Memory Loss

Where did her cell phone go?

Sheryl Kraft
Photograph: Gordon Beall

I once knew a woman who told me she took away her son’s cell phone to punish him – and then ended up having to buy a new one because she couldn’t remember where she hid it. I thought it odd at the time; after all, how could you possibly misplace something as valuable and important as a phone?
Until I did it myself. I lost my cell phone and didn’t find it until…well, it’s kind of embarrassing, humiliating (and all those other words I need a thesaurus to find),  so before I own up to this gaffe, I’d like to talk about the obvious – the way our memory changes as we get older.
There’s something we start to lose with age (and it’s not weight, dammit) – it’s brain matter. I first noticed the serious and disturbing nature of this situation when I returned to school for a Master’s degree about a month shy of  my 50th birthday. Classes were held twice a week.  I thought the hard part was behind me after I completed the lengthy application and was accepted into the program. I loved learning, so schoolwork seemed entirely manageable, even welcome after so many years of being removed from the classroom.

And now that my children were in high school, they could pretty much fend for themselves, with one caveat— I’d allow them to get fast food on the nights I had schoolwork. Trouble was, the twice-a-week classes were rounded out with so much work due for the following week that every night I had schoolwork. I was none too pleased with their diets of greasy, fat-laden awful food (they were thrilled, to say the least).  But I digress.
After so many years of not doing any really serious reading – the kind that I had to analyze, dissect and actually remember for more than a few days after I digested the last word – I had forgotten (oh no, here it was—the first sign of memory loss) just how much work college could be. I faced an inordinate amount of work for each of my two classes; in addition to books to read there were papers to write and others to critique in-between. So, in my quest to be teacher’s pet (not really – I was way too old for that – all I really wanted was to come to class prepared) I set out to divide up the pages of reading so that each day, I would read part of the assignment and by the time the new class rolled around, I’d have it all finished. 
I was on a roll. 120 pages divided by seven: not so bad. Roughly 17 pages a day.  But what I forgot to factor in was my waning attention span (another thing that seems to diminish along with brain cells) and the fact that I did not want my children or husband to be malnourished. Too guilty to concentrate, I tried my hand at quick and easy meals, which weren’t always so quick and definitely not always easy. And sometimes my reading got pushed to the next night and the next night…until the easy 17 pages were now an intimidating 34, or even 51. (It was akin to the sudden weight gain that sneaks up after age 50…first it’s two pounds, then it’s five and before you know it, it’s in the double digits.) 

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