One of my group of friends sent us all a picture of a bear attack we experienced together a few years ago.
That's me on the far right of the picture, in the background. I say "a few years ago" because I don’t remember how many years it was. Somewhere around three, I think. I don’t remember this moment at all, actually. This is a good demonstration of how my memory works, or rather doesn’t. This was clearly a memorable moment, but I don’t remember it. I’m sure it was fun. I imagine someone (maybe even me) saw this giant bear statue, and somehow we arrived at the idea to pose for a picture of the bear attacking us.
Are there bears in North Dakota? Maybe we talked about that at the time. I feel like we talked about some other kind of attack in North Dakota. Maybe scorpions?
I remember a lot of the context around this photo. This was at our friends’ wedding in North Dakota, just before the ceremony. Or just before something with a set time anyway. Maybe between the ceremony and the reception? We had some time to kill before that set time, and we were at a resort with mini golf, so we played mini golf. Toward the end of the mini golf, we realized we had to hurry up, so we started playing collaboratively rather than competitively. We all worked together hitting all the balls toward the next hold, calling it "communist mini golf." Was the beat at the end or in the middle? We probably didn’t have time for a photo at the end.
It’s possible I only remember the communist mini golf part because Jessica mentions it pretty much every time we play mini golf. I also remember the reception was at a building a short walk from the mini golf. There were swings in between. And basketball. I think we played basketball at some point, maybe some other game as well. Four square? Where did we get a ball? The reception had an upstairs patio where people could smoke. People did smoke, and I joined them to talk. I don’t remember which people smoked. Either the night before or the night of the bear attack in this photo, I was outside, it was dark, and I was talking to someone. About something.
My implicit memory is great. I can do things I've done before, with skills I don’t remember learning. Much of life is like riding a bike for me, where you never really forget how. But my episodic memory is awful. I frequently start watching a new movie only to realize after five or ten minutes that I’ve actually seen it before. So maybe it’s like riding a bike, but I’m unsure if it’s my bike or I maybe borrowed it.
In many ways, as you might imagine, this is a bad way to go through life. I can’t reminisce with my friends about the bear attack; without memory, I effectively wasn’t there. But there I am, in the photo. Clearly I was there. It’s easy for people to assume from my lack of memory that I didn’t enjoy such shared moments. I’m pretty sure I did here. I look happy, of course, but beyond that, this is the kind of experience I would enjoy. Or at least I would now. Was I different then? Surely I enjoyed it.
In other ways, bad episodic memory is a gift. Unlike all my friends, I can look at this photo and experience it anew. While they can only remember their actual experience, I can construct new experiences among the wide gaps in my memory. It’s almost as if I get to relive my life, with only a few boundaries that I must repeat, in the memories I retain. Everyone looks happy in photos, so there’s a good chance my reconstructed past is actually happier than it was the first time around.
I’ve never met anyone with memory like mine. I’m pretty sure my memory wasn’t always like this, and I didn’t realize it had changed until years later, when I couldn’t very much remember years before. I’m sure there are other people with similar memories. Similar memory capacities, I mean. I doubt there are other people who remember the bear attack like I do. I can’t tell you how much fun we had.