Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Cobwebs of My Mind

When most people conjure up images from their past in their memory or dreams, I'm told they can envision the situation or circumstance like it was yesterday. The faces, sights, sounds and smells seem to come alive and they are transported back in time. I am very jealous of this ability because it's simply something that I seem incapable of.

When I think back upon MY past -- sometimes as short as few days previous -- I have a great deal of trouble seeing faces or hearing voices. It's almost like I'm viewing someone else's memory through a fog. People appear as ghosts and then they melt away all together.

Yet, while people are missing from my memories and dreams, objects are front and center. I can tell you with clear detail how a particular room looked, where each piece of furniture set and the color of the rug!

For example, one of my special places as a child and youth was at my maternal grandparents home on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I had a very close relationship with both of my grandparents as I spent more time with them than my brother and 6 cousins combined. Grandma & Grandpa had a very special place in my heart and I was devastated when each of them died.

So, one would think that when I think back to all the joyous times I spent with these two special people that the picture, first and foremost in my mind, would be their two visages. Alas, it's not the case at all! Their faces flash in my mind in an instant and then disappear. Their voices don't register at all.

What do I see? Their home and the expansive yard. I can travel from room to room and describe in detail all the trappings of routine life. I can tell you where the cushions for the back porch wicker furniture were kept. I can tell you what was in almost every kitchen cabinet. I can even describe the mildewed grout in Grandpa's shower!

I'm can see almost every square inch of their 1+ acre property. I can tell you which areas were the rockiest and where you'd be most apt to run into a snake or a yellow jacket hole. I can envision the dock, boathouse and even the old Criscraft speed boat that was retired when I was 6 or 7 years old.

I can envision all these things as if I was standing there right now, but I can only VERY vaguely remember the people who made it the special place it was.

My mother died in 1992 of cancer and, though I was very close to my mother, I only remember what she looks like because of all the pictures of her I've kept. If these photos were to disappear, so too would my ability to see my mom.

Some people might suggest that my inability in this area pointed to my lack of coping skills with trauma. I would agree with such an assessment, except that my inability to see faces in my mind extends to people who are alive and well. I can often meet someone one week and see them again in the next week or so and not be able to remember meeting them the first time.

Like many people afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome (AS), I think the primary reason I have so much trouble remembering faces is that I don't see them very often. While most folks look directly at the people they converse with on a daily basis, I don't. I sweep my gaze across their faces, from time to time, because I learned early on that to do otherwise causes people to think you're not paying attention to them.

But I rarely look directly into someone's eyes when I talk with them. I can't tell you why I don't look at people directly during conversation, but if our eyes happen to meet, it makes me very uncomfortable and I immediately look away.

Since objects don't look back -- at least I don't think they do -- there's nothing for me to avert my eyes from. Consequently, I spend a great deal of time looking at and, sometimes, fixated on objects. That's why I can envision and describe them to myself in uncanny detail. (Note: Unfortunately, I can't describe these objects to you because I have a great deal of difficulty explaining myself to people -- I'll deal with that issue in a separate post sometime.)

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