I have a fear of forgetting. Not little things like where I left my car keys or whether the diswasher is full of clean or dirty plates, but huge things like my first kiss, how it felt on my 8th birthday when I was finally able to have a sleepover, and building my life with my husband. I worry that one day I’ll wake up and my memories will begin to fade in tiny ways that aren’t really noticeable at first but then turn into entire blacked-out passage, similar to a redacted government report on Area 51.
My grandmother had Alzheimer’s Disease. I’m not a therapist but I’m 99.9999999% sure that this is where my fear stems from. She was diagnosed when I was in late middle school years (7th or 8th grade) and we watched warily as she went from a strong woman with opinions about everything to moments where she honestly seemed like a small child. It was creepy, to be frank. It was painful for everyone, but most of all my grandfather who watched his wife deteriorate at a time when he had planned for them to relax and travel, finally able to enjoy their retirement. There were entire days where she had no idea who he was and I think it broke his heart. I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t.
I have a recurring dream that makes me feel so tiny and inconsequential that every time I have it, it takes me about 3-4 hours to feel normal again. It always starts the same way. I’m at a party. I’m in an unknown house surrounded by unknown people but I feel like I should know them. The house, while totally unfamiliar, has a weird familiarity about it, almost as though it’s a compilation of many known places but put together in a way that I don’t understand. I keep opening doors and finding unexpected things, like gardens where bathrooms should be, basements on the third floor, bathrooms where I think I should be finding a kitchen, dentist offices set up in the middle of a bedroom. I’m totally lost and confused and trying to keep my cool because I don’t want anyone else to realize that I don’t know what’s going on.
What’s worse is that everyone seems annoyed with me. I have no idea what I did or who these people are, but face after face keeps coming up to me to demand something of me. The problem is, not only do I not know who they are, but I don’t really understand what they’re asking. The last time I had this dream, a man I perceived to be about my age kept insisting, “You have to find the frog! No one can get started until you bring the frog to the stadium!” So not only do I not know where I am, have no idea who I’m with, but now I’m being asked weird things I don’t know the answers to.
And then everyone gets frustrated. They seem to have figured out that I’m acting and don’t actually know anything but this makes them more annoyed. Everyone at the party begins to tell me things but I can’t keep anything straight. Sometimes male voices come from female mouths and vice versa. Language dissolves and it seems everyone is suddenly speaking gibberish. Everyone faces me and speaks, and speaks, and speaks and I can’t turn anywhere or do anything because voices and faces and hands and bodies are everywhere and I can’t find anyone to tell me what is going on.
And then I wake up.
But I have this dream the way people who are afraid of drowning dream of water. It’s terrifying because it could conceivably happen in real life. I am petrified that one day, this is what life will be like. I won’t have any control and I’ll have no idea who I am, what is expected of me, or even what the social norms of the situation might be.
My fear isn’t so much that I won’t be in charge or I won’t be an authority figure, but that I’ll forget my life. I worry that everything I am will cease before I die and then time unwinds for me, leaving me feeling like a child in a room full of adults.
My fear is that I will forget everything that mattered and was important to me, I will no longer know who I am, and I will be infinitely lonely.