Everything I Remember

I still remember the best birthday I ever had. My girlfriend slept with my best friend. I got fired from my job. To cheer myself up, I bought a slice at my favorite pizzeria. I got food poisoning and was throwing up for hours. I had to go to the emergency room. The doctor who treated me was Lisa, the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I asked her to marry me. She said no, and had another doctor take over my treatment. But when I got home, do you know what I realized? It wasn’t my birthday.

Flipping through a family photo album sets off a cascade of memories for me—even if the photos are decades old, I’m not in any of them, and I don’t know these people. Despite all of that, the memory comes through: I’m supposed to be doing something right now.

Why does that walk with my sister through the woods, the leaves crunching beneath our boots as we talked about our dreams for the future, feel like it happened yesterday when it was a few minutes ago?

I worry about my memory sometimes. This weekend, I forgot that guy’s name—that genius astrophysicist who’s on TV a lot. Fifteen minutes, I’m walking around thinking: “He has three names. I know that. I heard him narrate this show at the American Museum of Natural History. The Hayden Planetarium. What is his name?” Then it comes to me: Neil deGrasse Tyson. So who’s the genius now? Let’s see him try to remember my name.

As I handle mementos around my house, they bring up recollections from many years ago. The movie-ticket stub that I found and fished out of a public garbage can. The program from a play that I found and fished out of a public garbage can. The public garbage can that I carried home in case anything else interesting was in there. Now I use it to store my mementos.

Research shows that couples who discuss positive memories together are happier than those who don’t, and I remember clearly the first time I screamed at my girlfriend for not understanding that.

Mnemonic devices can help you remember things, but people don’t realize they can also be useful for helping you misremember things. For example, SKIBARF helps you misremember the first seven Presidents of the United States: Shelley, Ken, Ira, Buchanan, Andrews, Rowley, and Fifth President. “SKIBARF.” It’s easy, and if you stick to it you’ll never be right.

Some lessons stay with you. I remember when I was ten years old and obsessed with baseball. I played from sunrise to sundown, and I got pretty good. My Little League team reached the championship game, and I came to bat with the bases loaded, two outs, and my team down by one run in the bottom of the ninth. It was the situation every ballplayer dreams of. I worked a full count, but I struck out and we lost. I collapsed at home plate and cried. But then Dad came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said he was proud of me. I was blown away. The biggest game of the season, and Dad hadn’t even paid attention.

I worry about my memory sometimes. This weekend, I forgot that woman’s name—that musician who sang “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Fifteen minutes, I’m walking around thinking: “She sang ‘She Bop’ and ‘True Colors’ and ‘Time After Time.’ The album was called She’s So Unusual. I even know that she co-wrote and performed on the song ‘Code of Silence’ by Billy Joel in 1986 for his album The Bridge. What is her name?” Then it comes to me: Cyndi Lauper. So who’s the icon of ‘80s pop music and fashion now? Let’s see her try to remember my name.

Sometimes it can be difficult to remember the mnemonic device you were using. If that ever comes up, refer to the following mnemonic for mnemonics: “S!” The “S” stands for “SKIBARF,” and the exclamation point is because you’re excited.


Of all the senses, none is more linked with memory than smell. I can still remember being in my early 20s, taking in the rank smell of the dive-bar urinal during a long night of urinal-smelling.

A song can bring you back to a different time and place, one you haven’t thought of since long ago. And a really good song can make you feel like you’re years in the future, about to die, and why is “Starships” by Nicki Minaj playing in the hospital? And even if it’s going to play, does the surgeon have to sing along?