I can’t remember when I began forgetting things, but I first felt the consequences in fifth grade.
My teacher (what was her name?) gave out late notes to students who forgot their homework. Your parent had to sign it and—get this—you had to put it in your backpack and bring it all the way back to school. If you failed to get the late note signed, you got a yellow late note. Leave the yellow late note in the fridge when you were getting a glass of O.J? Blue late note. Stick that in the mailbox instead of a letter? Red late note. You get it.
One day, I showed up at school with dread, thinking of the unsigned red late note that was either on the bus or in my backyard or at the bagel place I’d stopped at for breakfast. When I walked up to Mrs. Whatshername, she frowned down at me but had a weird glint in her eyes. With a dramatic flourish she handed me a black piece of construction paper. My classmates turned around to gawk at it. I’d been served.
“In all my years of teaching,” she began, “I have never had to give a student a black late note. I had to stop at Walgreens to buy the paper.”Feeling ashamed and maybe just a little bit honored, I slid the black paper into my backpack. I went home determined to get the note signed and end this vicious cycle. But as so often happens in life, Buffy the Vampire Slayer came on and I forgot all about it.
After fifth grade, I got in control of my homework. Personal artifacts, however, became a serious concern. Wallets, sunglasses, cell phones, socks: all these trailed behind me like bread crumbs. I tried a variety of techniques. I put all my belongings in a purse that, as far as I know, is still riding the D.C. Metro. I even made a mental checklist (ok, I admit it was sung aloud to the tune of the Colonel Bogey March) that went:Wallet…sunglasses, phone and keys.Wallet…sunglasses, phone and keys. Wallet. You in my pocket?I’ve got my wallet, and things that… I need.
It didn’t help me find anything and may have lost me a few friends. Superglueing possessions to my face started to look like the only viable option.
Cut to adulthood. I’m living in a new state. I’m paying bills – sometimes before they put that ugly red “urgent” sticker on my door. I have a teaching job and have never, thanks to obsessive head counting, lost a student. My roommate enters my room in a panic.“Have you seen my passport?” she asks while dumping out the contents of her duffel bag onto my bedroom floor. She’s leaving for the Caribbean the next day.
I know this feeling. The “why didn’t I look for this a month ago? feeling.” We tear apart the house, her car, even her classroom. No passport. I sympathize, but the role reversal is refreshing and I even shake my head judgmentally when her back is turned just to see how it feels.
After checking the toilet tank one last time, she finally concedes defeat and drives ten hours for an emergency passport.
A year or so later, I pick up the copy of Moby Dick I’ve been reading sporadically since 8th grade and open to the marked page. My roommate is in the kitchen making dinner and does not hear my gasp of horror as I see her face staring back at me from the blue, government-issued bookmark.
The devil on my shoulder wants to burn it. The angel, however, wins out and I decide to confess after dinner. But, as so often happens in life, The Biggest Loser came on and I forgot all about it.