What was your last landline number?
You don’t know, I bet. We all used to know the numbers for our closest friends and relatives by heart, but now there’s a good chance you don’t know your own husband’s number. If you want to send him a message, you just tap the picture of him. It’s as if the system was invented for preschoolers.
Some years ago, I got into a conversation with someone about this. At that moment, I tried to remember my phone number from the city I lived for many years after college and drew a complete blank. It was simply gone.
And then, a couple of nights later, I woke up in the middle of the night and there it was: 688-1469. And I thought to myself, “OK, fine, but why is this popping into my head now?”
At this point I should give you a basic anatomy lesson you probably never learned in school. There is a tiny being who lives in your brain who is in charge of sorting through files when you need to recall something. Mine is named Phyllis. She’s an irritable middle-aged woman with frizzy hair, a hoarse voice and big glasses that keep slipping down her nose.
Phyllis was irritated (she tends to be irritable anyway) that I had no appreciation for her having dug this out of the deep recesses of my mind.
“Hey, you ingrate. I thought you needed this number. I worked double shifts looking through old files, old cabinets, a pile of cardboard boxes from the ‘90s that was never properly gone through, under the bed, everywhere. I finally found this phone number between the dimensions of the furnace filter at your parents’ house and your password to your email two jobs ago. I thought you’d be pleased, but no. No appreciation at all.”
Phyllis put down her coffee and lit up a cigarette. (I quit forever ago, but she never will.) “From now on, let me know if a job isn’t a rush. I put all other jobs on hold for two days to get this done. See those boxes?” She pointed to a stack by her desk. “That’s all stuff you read this week that ought to be filed by now, but I’m just one person.”
Phyllis is getting old and her work is getting sloppy. There are more and more things that never get filed properly, and some files have been forever lost.
I was curious about the lyrics to some ‘90s songs I used to know. “What happened to all the damned Nirvana lyrics?” I demanded.
“I threw those out years ago when you needed to learn how to post content online,” Phyllis said. “All this new stuff has got to go somewhere, you know. Your brain isn’t getting any bigger.”
I shrugged. “You should have asked. I might have wanted to sing those again. You don’t know. And anyway, that isn’t the only thing you’ve dumped without my realizing it. Who is that guy who was in that one movie? You know, the funny one. I was trying to remember that yesterday and couldn’t. You know the one. He was married to that model.”
“Sorry, not enough to go on,” Phyllis said, lighting a second cigarette. I think she had forgotten there was already one burning away in the ashtray in front of her. “You might want to try googling that.”
Now I was angry. “I am not supposed to need google for stuff in my own brain, Phyllis! That’s your job! That’s literally your entire job!”
“So fire me,” she said, utterly unmoved. “I don’t know who you think you’re going to get to take over once I’m gone.”
She had a point there.
The older I get, the more forgetful I am. I may or may not remember the words to my favorite songs, the names of my favorite actors, or where I put my phone, but I’ll tell you one thing I’ll always remember:
My old phone number was 688-1469. If you need to reach 1995 Sophia, you can try calling, but don’t be surprised if she has a cassette tape of Nirvana turned up so loud she can’t hear you.