I went to Staples, the office supply store, to recycle used printer cartridges and to buy new ones. “You want HP 30A and Brother L61,” the sales clerk told me as she scanned the used cartridges. “They are over there, on the far aisle.” She gestured to an entire wall of toner cartridges, hanging on hooks. I knew I should have written the numbers down. Between the time that I walked away from the counter and reached the display of Brother cartridges, the numbers disappeared from my mind. Was it 51, 61 or 71, I thought, as I studied the pictures of the cartridges on the packages. They all looked the same. What was the model number of my printer anyway? I couldn’t remember. I was equally confused when I found the display of HP toners, an entire aisle of boxes with various letter and number combinations. What was that number for the HP toner again?
I went back to the counter. The sales clerk was sympathetic. “Here,” she said, “take these used ones with you so you can match them.”
This is what it must be like for my husband, who has no short-term memory. I think about the tests the neurologists perform to assess his short term memory. “Remember these four words…,” they say and unleash a string of four disconnected words that even I have trouble remembering. Ten minutes later, they ask him for the words and he looks at them without comprehension.
At least I had tangible objects, like these used cartridges, to aid my memory. But for him, each moment is lived and then discarded, not stored in his memory. He is always in the here and now, in the moment. When I come home from work, I don’t ask what he did that day or ask him to remember events from a day or a week ago. I just ask, “How are you feeling?” Nine times out of 10, his eyes will warm as they meet my gaze and a smile will radiate across his face.
“Good,” he says. “I’m happy.”
What else matters?