Losing my Nouns

In my dreams, I channel Dorothy Parker. Each time I open my mouth, words with weight and wit wander past my admiring audience, directly onto the pages of the New Yorker.

In my reality, however, I have always been a slow talker, rummaging a little desperately for the second half of my sentence. It’s a bit like having a Southern drawl–without the charming accent to keep the listener entertained.

In the past couple of years, it’s been getting worse. I’ve started losing my nouns. You know…the words I need to add to my sentence to have anything at all to say. Given enough time, I can pull out any number of qualifiers or adjectives, verb after verb, and even an adverb now and then. But nouns are frequently and conspicuously absent from my conversational menu.

This is causing some discord on the marriage front. In addition to my inability to finish a sentence, I need visuals to remember what the other person is saying. I recently asked my spouse to “please stop talking” about his upcoming travel schedule and “send it to me via email instead.” He paused for a moment before asking, “Why do want me to talk to you, anyway, if you’re just going to forget what I said?” Good question. I can’t remember.

Not that it would make me feel much better, but I can’t dismiss these as senior moments yet, either. I’m not a teenager anymore, but it’s not like I’m a card carrying member of AARP. Besides, I don’t feel old; I just feel stupid.

Sometimes I am so horrified at the prolonged, awkward silences that I fill in with whatever is in my line of sight. “Bills!” I blurt. “Clip ons!” “Peanut butter!” I might say with feigned certainty. Then I try to cover. My poor kids get so confused. “What are you talking about?” my nine-year-old asked me once. “I don’t even eat peanut butter.” “Yeah, well, look,” I said. “There it is. If you did like it, we have plenty.” By that time, I have confused myself as well, and I don’t remember what I was trying to say in the first place. Oh well, perhaps that is a blessing. It’s always worse when you know what you’re missing.

I remember vividly the first time this happened to me. I was visiting my brother-in-law, and I had just confided how I repeatedly tried to turn off the skylight in his bathroom. We laughed, and it was a nice moment–until we were teamed up for Pictionary minutes later. Guess what word he got? He was so excited! He started drawing and I knew immediately what it was, but I could not remember that word! “Sky-window?” I said, in a teeny, tiny voice. “Window-light?” “Ceiling-window?” I tried endlessly and in vain, watching him turn purple, a single vein throbbing at his temple. We never played Pictionary again, but I frequently have that same feeling. I am losing it, whatever it is.

After listening to my anxious whinging for a while, a friend suggested I get some of those Gingko Biloba supplements. Herbally-minded folks claim that regular usage works wonders to sharpen the old gray matter. I bought myself some. Trouble is, you have to remember to take it. At this very moment, there are at least two bottles of expired Gingko Biloba sitting in my kitchen cupboard, and they haven’t helped me one bit.

I don’t forget everything, though.

I remember advertising jingles from my childhood. That’s super handy, as you can imagine. Come to think of it, that’s probably what is taking up the bulk of my RAM.

I remember other people’s kids’ names. When necessary, #1 and #2 will suffice for my own kids, so that’s not much of a problem, either. Grown ups all look more or less the same, say the same sort of things, and behave as expected most of the time, so their names generally vanish into the unknown. There are exceptions, of course. If you shave half of your mustache, run for office, or throw up on the sushi platter at a party, I will probably remember your name.

Most unfortunately, I remember all of the things I would dearly love to forget. Let’s say you make a disparaging comment such as: “That font you chose for your thesis work reminds me of Sunset Magazine.” Oof. I will remember that until the day I die. How could that have been at all helpful in the evolution of humankind? I would probably write a letter to ask that Mr. Whosit evolution guy if he were still alive.

Wait. What was I talking about?

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Beret Olsen

Writer, photographer, teacher, and part-time insomniac.

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