Sense Memory

It’s funny, the feelings and memories that are stirred by the most innocuous of things. The way the brain makes associations is indeed quite peculiar. The fact that a certain smell can remind us of a place or a time gone by is truly quite remarkable and even bizarre. I always notice it in smells, which is why I mention that specifically, but I associate sounds and even sights with completely unrelated things as well.

Perhaps the best example of sensory association that I can come up with actually happened somewhat recently. Over last summer, I went bowling. As I was descending the escalator to the alley, I smelled something…odd. Something not quite familiar to a normal trip to the Texas Station bowling alley. Something had immediately brought me back to my childhood, to my summers spent in a daycare summer camp. I can’t even tell you what the smell was that brought such a strong memory on, but it was there. Suddenly I was recalling the minutiae of minor events over ten years prior.

When we – my dad was with me – reached the bowling alley itself, and I looked out over the lanes…there it was. There was a group of kids from a daycare summer camp. I was stunned. I still couldn’t – and never would – place the actual smell itself that took me back to such a fond memory, but there it was, right in front of my eyes. My brain automatically knew exactly what was at the bottom of that escalator with just the faintest of smells. Insane — even for someone with my excellent memory. I’m not even bragging really; my memory creeps me out big time.

Sounds, music especially, can bring about the same reaction in me. I will never hear an Owl City song without thinking of a wonderful summer and the tremendous heartbreak that followed. Tenacious D will never come out of my headphones without reminding me of beating Final Fantasy IX with Wonderboy and Tribute on repeat. Happy Campers will never reach my ears without reminding me of how I found my way into a world of punk music. Every artist has a story to me. Every song a different meaning.

Why am I writing this now? Unrequited love. When I watched Arrested Development for the first time, I had a huge crush on a gorgeous latina girl. She was my best friend for a time, though we haven’t spoken in a year now. Hearing the last conversation between Michael and Marta, when Marta is trying desperately to tell Michael how she feels and Michael completely misses the point, is what finally brought those memories back to life. It wasn’t that I had associated the episode itself with her, I had associated that moment, that specific conversation with her. That whole memory was firmly buried until I heard that exact sequence of words. I was reminded of so many similar conversations, with us both feeling the same thing and completely not realizing it about the other. When I watched that episode the first time, I had immediately tied all of my conversations with her to that one conversation between those two. Aside from the fact that I couldn’t help sympathizing with Michael, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself either. Talk about a huge mistake…

A wealth of feelings can come storming over me as if I was the Gulf of Mexico in August at the vaguest of reminders. Simple association. Much less simple emotion. Crazy.

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