My husband has been working really hard on renovating our basement. For his birthday last week, I gave him an electronic dartboard to hang on the wall when he’s all done. He thought it was great, and said “remember back when we had a free-standing dart board down there?”
Nope. I don’t. Why? Because it was 20 years ago, and that file has been purged from my brain storage.
You see I believe all of our memories are stored in a big brain file cabinet. And while the capacity is impressive, from time to time some things have to be purged and removed from the drawers to make room for other more current or important topics. While others live on forever. And each drawer has a category and purpose.
The first drawer in the cabinet is all the current stuff that is flying around our brains each day. As women, that drawer is never closed. There are a gazillion files and reference documents pulled in and out in rapid succession all day long. Things to do and remember for work, family management topics, health issues, pet care, dinner plans, the latest episode of This is Us, it’s all in there. And just when we think we can close it and go to sleep, there’s that one file that didn’t get put away correctly, and it forces that drawer open around 3am to get our brain going on something that makes no sense whatsoever, or to let us know that it was incorrectly filed under “worries.”
Men are quite capable of closing their first drawer. The drawer is not as packed as ours, and they pull out one file at a time as needed. They don’t have 738 files flying back and forth at any given moment. And when they are all done with the files they need, they shut the drawer. This is why, when you are snuggled up on the sofa, it is quiet, and you ask sweetly “Whatcha thinking about?” he replies “Nothing.” It’s because he really isn’t thinking about anything. While you are ruminating about what the forecast is, if you can get into work early before your first meeting in the morning, if you have the energy to change the sheets on the bed, whether you remembered to change your child’s doctor’s appointment, and if last year’s shorts will still fit, he’s thinking of nothing. Because he has closed that top drawer until he needs it again.
The second drawer is important, fairly recent topics that you need to access from time to time, but not necessarily every day. Loved ones’ birthday dates, upcoming doctor’s appointments, grocery lists, a memorable chapter in a book you are reading, your child’s shoe size, a funny story you want to tell you sister next time you talk – are all files living in that second drawer. This drawer is tricky though. It is apt to open and close without warning, causing us to forget what we had intended to access. We open the drawer when we are upstairs in our bathroom and realize we need to add hairspray to our grocery list. Then by the time we get back to the kitchen and look at our list, the drawer has shut and we can’t remember what we needed. Or we are trying to tell a friend about a movie and we can’t recall the actor’s name. For men, this drawer closes quickly and often, so for example, they will pick something up, put it down on whatever surface is convenient, their drawer will close and they will walk away and forget the item even exists. Or that drawer will close and cause them to forget you have plans for the evening. Or where the scotch tape is kept.
Sadly, that second drawer gets harder and harder to open the older we get. The contents become more difficult to access, and pretty soon files are being purged whether we want to get rid of them or not. Drawer #2 is both the handiest and the most frustrating part of the cabinet.
Drawer 3 is devoted to older memories. Herein lies our childhood, the spirit of people who have passed (the sound of their voice, the feel of their hand), first dates, high school or college memories, sibling hijinks, and those old sayings and jokes that make our kids cringe. This drawer is packed, because it can contain memories and topics from our early years up to about a decade ago. This, to me, is the part of the cabinet where files need to be tossed out/purged/erased from time to time to make room for more. It can be a bit embarrassing, like if I remember seeing a movie, but not who I was with when I saw it. Or the name of an old college friend. Or how to drive a route from the past. Like the apparent old dartboard in our basement, someone will say “don’t you remember…” and I’ll have to confess to purging.
Interestingly, men seem to be more familiar with their third drawer than we ladies. Men seem to have the uncanny ability to dredge up memories like high school teacher’s names, the details of their first concert, or a spelling bee they participated in during 4th grade. Sometimes I look at my husband and say “I can’t believe you remember that.” It’s because he was able to open his third drawer and apparently never throws anything away.
There is one last drawer in our brain file cabinet. The mysterious and somewhat miraculous Drawer Number 4. This drawer is labeled with just one word: music. It is easily accessible at any random moment, often when we aren’t even trying to open it. The other day as I pulled into the parking lot at my work, the Sirius radio station I had on started to play “Every Woman in the World” by Air Supply. Anyone remember Air Supply? My brother hated them and called them Gas Attack. They were the epitome of bubblegum pop of the late 70s- early 80’s, and my young teen self thought they were great. While other kids my age were starting to listen to AC/DC and KISS, I was the sappy nerd who was all about Billy Joel, Chicago, and lord help us, even England Dan & John Ford Coley. It wasn’t until I was in college that I got “wild and crazy” and started listening to Styx and Bon Jovi. I was all about story-telling songs.
Anyway, as I parked my car, there I was, transported back to my teen bedroom, singing along with a song I literally have not heard in 40 years. The words still popped into my head and I thought “Why the heck do I still know this song? What random file from that drawer got plucked out when I’m not even thinking about it?”
That fourth drawer is especially full for musicians, or anyone who has been involved with music in their lives. My husband used to sing with a band, and I still marvel at the lyrics he remembers. The most amazing thing about that last drawer is it never gets purged. Classic example: Tony Bennett. The man is 95, sadly riddled with Alzheimer’s, yet up until just a year ago he’d get together with Lady Gaga and every note of music, every lyric, came back to him in a heartbeat. There are so many stories of the elderly connecting with music when seemingly everything else failed to make sense to them. It’s mystical.
Of course, there is a danger with this drawer. Inevitably, when we least expect it, a file will get wedged, causing the drawer to stay ajar juuuuusssttt enough for a song, or even one verse of a song, to get stuck in our heads for days. It isn’t even necessarily a song we enjoy. Even trying to select a different file from that drawer sometimes doesn’t help until that one song gets safely tucked away and out of our active brains.
If there is to be one magical drawer in the cabinet that never fails us, I’m glad it is the one full of music. The next time drawer number one is exhausting us, drawer number two is frustrating us, and drawer number three makes us melancholy, we’ve got one more option. No matter if we are in the car, cleaning the kitchen, or blocking out the rest of the world with our headphones, we can make a random selection from drawer number four and sing and dance our heart out. And for those 3-4 minutes, nothing else exists.
Come on, drawer 4. Play me a memory…We’re all in the mood for a melody — And you’ve got us feelin’ alright.