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My memory.

I have one that is as long as an elephant’s, as the saying goes. Don’t believe me? I have some examples below.

My first recruitment exercise in 2007 taught me many things, one of which is that there’ll be some candidates who refuse to answer your phone calls after they have secured a job elsewhere. I’m not sure why telling me that they’re no longer interested in my company is so tiring, but I definitely don’t appreciate rudeness.

And guess what? I still remember the full name of this guy who left such a bad taste in my mouth. You know, those kind who shout with impatience into the phone at first, then immediately switch to an ingratiating tone once they realise it’s a potential employer at the other end of the line?

Infuriating bugg***. They must be mad if they think I’d recommend someone who flunked the very first interview (yes, that phone call counts) for any position in the company that I work for.

Maybe it was my first try at recruitment, or maybe it was the fact that he refused to answer his phone after that first time despite the fact that an interview had already been scheduled, but it left a deep impression on my mind. It’s not like I recite his name like a mantra everyday, but it’s now six years down the road, and I still remember him. Sure, there were countless others after him, and I remember the more memorable ones, but not their full names. It could be their first names only, or their faces, or some other background details about them.

In case you’re thinking that I’m a vengeful, vindictive *itch, this elephant remembers good things/events/people too.

My company received a cold call from this man in 2009. I let him into our little meeting room, and prepared to end the meeting within fifteen minutes. I can’t remember what his company’s business was, but it must have been something that I thought was not really necessary for us but held certain possibilities in future.

Right off the bat, I informed him of certain expectations that I had and my bottom line. He couldn’t meet them. Yet…the meeting stretched on for more than fifteen minutes. A powerful and charismatic presenter. Not pushy at all. Knew what he was talking about, and listened to the client. He convinced me, but I still didn’t need his services. Consciously or sub-consciously, I kept him in a corner of my mind though. It’s no easy feat to impress me, you see.

That was the last I saw of him, until one year later. He came back for another try and the moment he stepped through our doors, I called out from the other end of our office,

‘Edwin, right?’

He was so stunned that he took a step back.

‘Just one meeting for probably less than an hour, and you remember my name?’

He was incredulous.

‘Yup, because you were good.’

I don’t have a eidetic memory. I just process information so that it means something to me, and I remember it somehow. If you’ve ever told me something and I was paying attention, you can bet that I won’t seem as if I haven’t heard of it the next time you say it. The problem lies in me shutting my trap to fill in the blanks because I already know the story.

When I was an undergraduate, I used to listen intently to my lecturers for forty-five minutes, then scribble down the key points only when they stopped for the break. I didn’t miss much, but no one else except me could understand my notes, for the simple fact that I always process information in a way that is meaningful only to me. 

In case you’re wondering, I did that for laughs. Yes, exercises like that are enjoyable and challenging to me. I didn’t always used to do that for laughs though. It started with my…lazy bones.

When I was a child, homework/exams included the requisite reading comprehension section. They still do, I believe. The first time I came across a passage that was separated from its questions by virtue of the fact that they were front and back of the paper, I was vexed. Flipping back and forth the page to look for the answer was, to my nine-year-old mind, a horrendously troublesome task. I wanted to crush that piece of paper after the third or so attempt.

Hence, I endeavoured from then on to remember the passage and answer the questions in my own words (since I couldn’t always remember the exact words used). Imagine my surprise when just some years back, the powers that be announced that ‘lifting of sentences from the passages are no longer allowed, and students are required to use their own words when answering the questions’. I thought everybody did that all along!

What started out to compensate for my laziness blossomed into enjoyment for word play. I started exploring different ways of expressing the same thing. My school days inevitably included quite a few occasions when friends asked me for tips on brushing up their English/writing and tutors wanted me to share how I learnt writing.

There’s no shortcut, people. I learnt it the hard way; time and effort. Reading and thinking and writing out your ideas. Of course, the fact that I enjoy it enabled me to maneuver the learning curve and its bottleneck more effectively than many.

Back to my long memory.

A lot of times, I can recall the content of conversations. Even when the rest of the people involved don’t. That’s slightly irritating at times, and tremendously maddening at others. Imagine how I feel when a friend says something, then do a turnabout and say the opposite thing a few months down the road, and then deny that he voiced the first opinion a few months back.

I realise that people change, of course. I just ask that they remember that they have changed and not deny angrily when I point out that they used to have a different opinion. Some of them even go so far as to say that it was another person who said that. Sigh…I’m not ready to admit to memory failure yet, so I’ll just leave things be if they’re not matters of life and death, but will be secretly unconvinced.

My memory is both a blessing and a curse. It enables me to remember others’ good points and the happy times we shared, even when they do something that hurts me a lot. It helps me forgive others, but torments me with flashes of what they did to hurt me. I rock between zen-like acceptance and thunderous moods with silent tears at those times.

Forgiving is one thing, and forgetting is another. It’s often not about forgiving, in my case. Many times, I really do understand why people did the things they did and I empathise with those moments of weakness that led to their bad decisions. I understand because I too have climbed through a dark abyss once, brick by brick, mortar by mortar, blood and tears and hate and ache and all.

I understand, and I mostly succeed at letting go of my anger. What I can’t do, is forget. It doesn’t matter how busy I keep myself; the memories are always there, ready to spring out at the next provocation. Some fade with the passage of time, but many remain luminous in clarity.

I remember the good times shared with friends whom I’ve parted ways, I remember their lovable traits, but I also remember their betrayal of our friendship. Beneath the hurt and despite the passage of time, I know that I still care deeply about them, but they know and I know that, in all likelihood,

‘…never shall the twain meet’

again, for they are too ashamed to have let me down, while I fear too much a repeat of our sordid memories.

Over the years, a lot of people have expressed their envy or admiration for certain traits of mine. I know I’m lucky to have them, and yet I believe no words would ever be adequate to describe the isolation that has always been a part of me because of the same traits.

Saying adieu to my memories is not an option, obviously. For what they’ve made me into, I’m thankful. It’s what they may prevent me from becoming that I’m worried about. I just hope that my self-awareness kicks in in time for me not to lose the battle to myself when the time comes to love and trust again.