You Must Remember This

There's only so much bandwidth left in my 54-year-old brain

Photograph by NMeM Photographic Advertising / Science & Society Picture Libr

"Where are my keys?" "Where are my glasses?" "Where is my wallet?"

These are questions my mother asks nearly every time I see her.

When I was young and smart, with a brain that wasn't yet filled with so much nonsense that I couldn't remember my own phone number, I would grow impatient with my mother's addled wanderings around my house as she would search for what she didn't know was missing.

Inevitably, she left something behind. Usually, it was her reading glasses, which fortunately were easily replaced at the local drugstore. My husband and I would chuckle and put whatever it was she had forgotten in a cabinet for safe keeping until her next visit.

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There was nothing wrong with her. Fortunately, it wasn't that she had early onset Alzheimer's or something equally dire. My mother had—and still has—a memory like a steel trap, and can tell you details of events that happened many years ago, as well as entire plots of novels she read in the '70s. It was just that she was always a bit … distracted.

I have always prided myself on my sharp organization skills. Ready for anything, my purse is a vision of cleanliness, my books are alphabetized and my canned goods are lined up like little soldiers. My closet is color-coordinated, dark to light, long sleeve to short. I am never late for appointments and I make detailed lists for the grocery store.

But I keep leaving my damn keys in the front door lock.

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The first few times it happened, I chalked it up to living in a new house and being disoriented. I would open the front door with arms full of grocery bags, and the keys were forgotten, sometimes for hours. One time, it was a UPS man who gave them to me when I opened the door to get a package; another time, it was my son arriving home for a visit.

I now make a conscious effort to remember to take the keys out of the door lock and place them on the entryway table in the pretty little tray I bought specifically for my keys. If I don't put the keys in the tray—perhaps I drop them in my purse or leave them on the kitchen counter—I have a moment of angst that, yet again, I have left them in the door. Most of the time I haven't, but every so often, there they are, dangling in the lock, waiting for someone to come along and grab them. This is a pretty friendly neighborhood, so that's unlikely—at least, I think it is.

My memory is not as good as my mother's; in fact, many of the books I read disappear from my brain as soon as I'm done with them, but I can still do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle and finish most of it (as can my mother). I still remember nearly every word to every song on Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark" and Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush," not to mention the entire score of "Guys and Dolls" and "A Chorus Line."

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It's the day-to-day things that are harder to keep track of. My new neighbors are a terrific couple who I like very much, but I can never remember which of them is Drew and which is Richard. My daughter has lived in her apartment for 4 years, but I still don't know her address by heart. My home voicemail number was changed last month and I'm still fuming about having to try to remember to dial the new one, which I'll probably never be able to memorize. Not that anyone ever calls me at home anymore—except my mother.

There's only so much bandwidth left in my 54-year-old brain, and unless I forget a lot of things that I can't imagine forgetting (the theme song to "The Brady Bunch, for example), I doubt if I'll ever be as sharp as I used to be.

My keychain—the one on the keys I leave in the door every so often—was a gift from my mother 30 years ago. It's a silver Gucci double G, and I've never used another one since she gave it to me. I think of my mother nearly every time I look at it. Now, in my fifties, I no longer laugh at the things she leaves behind. I'm glad she's a little forgetful, because I know it means she's coming to visit again soon.