Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Try and remember

By Max Calloway

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I’m very small. Countertops and cabinet doors tower above me on either side. Before me stands a gate. I don’t know what’s on the other side. I’m afraid. I hear a deep rumbling, as if a heavy stone was being dragged across granite. Two moons flash in the abyss. White pillars arranged in a row. I’m terrified.

The scene ceases.

As far as I can recall, that’s one of my first vivid memories. I know where it happened. We were living in a small apartment in Tarrytown, NY. I even know why it happened. My dad and I were taking a nap together and I just happened to wake before he did. Curious, I wandered into the kitchen and found myself confronted by Jackie, the border collie who was constantly trying to eat me. But I don’t know what it means. All I know is that, at an early age, I confronted the unknown, the abyss. In it I faced the beast.

If you were partial to Freudian analysis you’d say that this encounter would explain why I’m hesitant to jump headlong into unknown situations. There could be a monster lurking and I sure as hell do not want to get eaten. Or maybe, if you knew me and my propensity for jumping into unknown situations, you’d say this encounter signifies the beginning of my desire to conquer the unknown. Perhaps it explains my love of dogs; fearful of them as a child, I long to have them under my command now that I’m an adult.

I’m in a large room. It’s dark. Nap time. The deep, syncopated breaths around me form a poly-rhythm, but I don’t know what that means, I’m three. I’m not tired and I lay beneath my cot wide-awake. Batman’s with me. I hear the double door open and I scramble on top of the cot and close my eyes tight.

That was from preschool, if the age didn’t give it away – just another of my memories from childhood. Maybe it speaks to my distain for autocratic authority. Or better yet, it’s a great explanation for why I watch those early Michael Keaton “Batman” flicks whenever I’m sick. Or maybe it explains why, despite gross overacting and a predictable plot line, I still enjoyed the non-Heath Ledger parts of “The Dark Knight.”

A tree branch. My hand reaching out into space to no avail. Weightlessness. Death.

I didn’t die but I did fall out of a tree once while pretending to play dinosaur hunters with a childhood friend when I was six. And if you’d asked me then, I’d say it felt like dying. Goes to show just how reliable memory can be.

But so what can we say about memory?

Cognitive science is at the cusp of answering this question. Troll the science section of any respected newspaper and you’ll find an article on the latest development in human memory. But what does it mean and who cares?

These choice episodes bear meaning on my life because I can recall them. The taste of fear, the breathlessness of my misinterpreted death, the powerless irk at hearing that door open. Theses feelings are not yours. No matter how lucid I describe them you’ll never know what impact they’ve had on me. So why the theories? Why the unquenchable desire to map it all out?

Empathy. We want to know what it’s like to be other than ourselves. It’s human.

We are born into this world and are aware that we’re aware. We take in stimuli and can reflect on it. Granted some are better at that reflection process than others, but we can all do it. In fact, some people are so good at it that they try to reproduce it. They write, paint, sculpt, and compose. They are driven by some sort of madness that compels them to re-present reality. But why? And is it even worthwhile?

I’d argue yes. It’s entirely worthwhile.

I know very few people will actually read these words. Yet I write them. I sit, apart from the people I care about – and those I care not to care about – and write, alone. Could I be working on a more worthwhile venture? Of course. I could be studying neuroscience with the hope of becoming a great scientist who will unlock the mysteries of memory in order to help those suffering from amnesia or chronic, short-term memory loss. But instead I sit and type.

But that’s art. That’s what makes us human – those people who observe and can’t help but want to share with those around them what they’ve gleaned from all this.

Max Calloway is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

5 Comments

5 Responses to “Try and remember”

  1. Dad Calloway on March 9th, 2011 10:38 am

    We are born into this world and are aware that we’re aware.
    That’s what separates us from the beasts. Great stuff!

  2. nikki calloway on March 9th, 2011 10:45 am

    I love it, but I am your mom.
    That dog was put to rest, so it wouldn’t bite that bel volto of yours.

  3. Abby on March 18th, 2011 10:59 am

    Good stuff. I enjoyed this. I agree with your argument that it’s worthwhile to strive to represent reality, but is it really madness that is the driving factor?

  4. aunt lexi on March 20th, 2011 3:33 pm

    Excellent, Prince Maxwell

  5. boris on March 22nd, 2011 4:09 pm

    Some good descriptions here, although it is extremely arrogant. This is NEWS writing. The word “column” does not grant you the permission to talk about yourself in such a manner.

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