Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Remembering Images

Rather than go to a therapist, I spend a lot of time trying to make sense of myself. I would rather be thinking about more productive things, but it's where my mind wanders to. I guess it's the subject I think I have the greatest likelihood of actually mastering, although so far most of my theories have been disproven. But I mention this to explain why many of my posts here do not seem to be about Sancha, or if they end up being about Sancha, they take a tortuous windy road through my childhood, dreamscape, and reading on the way there. This post will be no different. ´

I was very good at math in high school. Correction: I was very good at high school math in high school, and was under the impression that because of this, I was very good at math in general. High school math went up through a first year of calculus. Calculus was a little harder than what had come before because you had to think in three dimensions sometimes, but there were enough rules to follow and ways to translate three dimensions to two that I made it work. When I went to college, I enrolled in the logical next class, which was Multivariable Calculus. In retrospect, I take issue with this name. I mean, if I buy a "multicolor" shirt, I expect to get a shirt with four or five colors, not a shirt with an infinite number of light wavelengths. Pre algebra had been 2 dimensions. Calculus was 3 dimensions. I had a reasonable expectation that I would be gradually introduced each year to an addition dimension or two. Nope. When counting math-style, apparently it is okay to go 1, 2, 3, n. And then n +1, which just adds insult to infinity. I was lost. I studied. I got tutoring. I even enjoyed it, which was the strange thing. But it was all for naught--I got a very generous C- and thus ended my career as a mathematician.

What I learned from this experience, aside from empathy with my future students who tried as hard as they could to learn a new language and could not get it, was that my mind does not do more than 2 dimensions. I think primarily in language, but I don't have an entirely non-visual imagination: it's just that my visuals are photographic rather than cinematic or 3-D. My head doesn´t spin. This is true when I think about people as well. If I try to imagine what a particular person looks like, even if it´s someone I have recently seen in person, I almost always imagine a photo I have seen of them. If I haven´t ever seen a photograph of that person, it´s hard for me to get an image.

And here is where we come back to Sancha. Even though I saw her pretty much every day for 11 years, in my mind I saw and see her as she was captured in the various pictures I have taken and used as my avatars, screensaver, etc. When I visited her in the ICU, even when I thought she was going to recover, I very deliberately did not take any pictures, because I did not want to remember what she looked like all tubed and shaved and drugged. The worst image was after her heart stopped the first time, and they inserted the breathing tube, and she was stretched out on a table and in so much pain. There is sound associated with this image--she was bleating, making a noise that reached directly into my heart and made me not want to live. It didn't last that long, they gave her drugs and she went under again. But they told me that she had been "vocalizing" (vocalizing? Are you fucking kidding me?  Humming in the shower is vocalizing. Baby gurgling is vocalizing. She was screaming) every so often. So in my mind I knew that it had not been just that once, and that thought is almost unbearable to me. As images and sounds go, it´s not as bad as the one her poor petsitter is dealing with, which is her jump, but it was an image I didn´t ever want to have to see once, and definitely didn´t want to ever see again.

So this is why I´ve been so obsessive about getting photos of her, and staring at her sleepy image, her surfing image, her smiling image. My understanding, based on the kind of science that filters into NPR shows like Radio Lab or Science Friday, is that each time you remember something, you activate the same neurons that light up in the original experience of an event. I stare at this:

to crowd out that other image, to make my neurons forget how to produce it, to make it like it never happened.

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