Memory Loss

What do you remember about your childhood?

Jefferson Memorial, by David Rogawski

Authors’ Note: Through a writing elective, we visited the Turner Senior Resource Center’s health and wellness program for elderly people. We both met and interviewed one of the patients who had been suffering from memory loss. We then wrote about our experiences separately.




Reflections on Memory Loss, by Grace Huang:


“What do you remember about your childhood?”
“I was a tomboy.” She smiles. “I stuck up for my siblings.”
“What else do you remember?”
Her eyes unfocus as she plays absent-mindedly with her water bottle. A short pause. Then: “I don’t know.”

The time I spent with my volunteer was spent with so many of these heavy silences. Her active fingers would trace the outline of her water bottle for a few seconds. Then: “I don’t know”.

Her “I don’t know” was unapologetic, not wistful, not worried. She simply just did not know anything about her childhood except that she was a tomboy and that she stood up for her siblings. Siblings that she can remember the names of but not where they currently reside.


“Do you ever write things down so that you will remember?”
“Oh yes.”
“What did you write about yesterday?”

“I don’t know.”

I thought it would be a very beautiful exercise to transfer and transcribe a memory before it is lost. Instead, I found my encounter with my volunteer mostly sad. It is strange to realize how much of our encounters and empathies rest on our memories. We relate and share our lives through stories.

Despite all the advice that people give about “living just in the moment”, it’s actually quite impractical and perhaps impossible.


“Do you still work?”
“I used to be a grant writer for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, but I retired.”
“What do you miss the most about your job?”
“The camaraderie.”
“You probably get some of that here though, right?”
“Yes. I like Silver Club.”
“What do you do during Silver Club?”
“We do activities. We do Silver Club.”

“What has been the hardest part about losing your memory.”
“Getting fired from my job.”
“How did that conversation with your boss go?”

“I don’t know.”

Sometimes I’m not sure what she means by “I don’t know” because she uses it so liberally. Does it mean the same thing as “I don’t remember”?

Perhaps in technical (yet often violated) terms, to say “I don’t know” means that it never reached a level of consciousness or was not able to be interpreted. On the other hand, to say “I don’t remember” means that it has since slipped out. At times, the distinction is not that important, but it is sometimes nice or frustrating or futile to wonder where that lost information goes.


“I was a tomboy. I stuck up for my siblings.”
“One time I got a snowball thrown in my mouth.”
“What did you do then?”
I stuck up for my siblings. I was a tomboy.”


Tomboy, by Dave Seo:

“So what do you remember about your childhood?”

“Well…I was a tomboy.”

I’m a Michigander through and through you know. I was born in Highland Park right around Detroit and then spent most of my childhood in Milford. You’re not from here so you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but they’re neighborhoods not too far from Ann Arbor. I don’t think I have to tell you, it’s been a bad weekend for Michiganders when it comes to sports.

But anyway, I grew up in Milford as one of seven siblings. People don’t have such big families anymore, but it was great having a new member of the family every year. I’m the second oldest, one of six daughters. My only brother, he had a hell of a time with that.

Maybe it’s because there were so many girls in our house, I had to fight to get some attention. But for as long as I can remember, I was always a tomboy. Always getting into fights and tussles, I loved playing sports, often with other boys. I can’t tell you how many times I had to fight off bullies for my younger sisters, and once for my brother too. It wasn’t long before I developed a reputation in my neighborhood. I was proud of it too.

“Can you tell me about a happy memory?”

“Well…I was in the Air Force.”

I think I always knew that I wanted to get involved in the military. I could deal with boys and compete with the best of them, I knew that for a fact. But there were also a lot of veterans in our neighborhood. I liked the way they carried themselves. I liked the respect they commanded in our towns.

Choosing the Air Force was a no brainer. I was so enamored with the idea of people literally flying. I knew that I wasn’t going to make it as a fighter pilot. But I knew I could use my engineering background to be of some use. They could always use more electrical engineers on those Air Force bases, you know? A lot of equipment to maintain.

My first day as a part of the Air Force was one of the happiest and proudest moments of my life. It was such a sense of accomplishment – like my life mattered to someone else other than me. And I was proud to be serving my country.

“So you got trained as an electrical engineer?”

“Well…Yea, I was always a tomboy.”

Sometimes though, I wonder whether I could have met someone special when I was younger if I hadn’t been such a tomboy. I live with my sister now, I never got married or anything like that. I guess I was so focused on getting somewhere, making something of myself. As a child I never focused on boys so much. I just thought that they were more competition, more people I need to prove myself to.

I used to look at married couples with kids and really think not much of it. They had their lives and what was important to them, and I had my career. But now that I’m at home mostly and with my sister still working, I do get lonely sometimes. Maybe that’s why I think so often back to the memory of enlisting into the Air Force. It was a time when my life had such purpose and direction.

“What else do you remember about growing up?”

“Well…I was a tomboy.”



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