My Aunt was always in awe of my ability to recount the vivid details of even the most insignificant memories. Since I was a young teen, she has always been one of my loudest cheerleaders, strongest supporters, and, at times, most-sound life coach. I have always seen her as wise, sensible, understanding, and insightful. She is one of my biggest role models. On one of our lunch dates, I was about fourteen, at a dimly lit coffee house, with dining lights made of colored wine bottles and bite-sized food portions on modern art plates. We chatted over this boujee, pear salad with exotic toppings and dressing. “Exotic” for a person who likes Ranch and bacon, like a normal person. I’ll admit, it was a damn good salad, and I got it every time.
During our conversation, I recalled an event, similar to the way I am, this one. As always, amazed by the tiny intricacies of the memory, she explained how unusual it is for a person to remember the way I always could. I’ve always felt like this, so how could I know everyone else doesn’t remember like me?
“My friend has something called ‘Synesthesia’, and when she told me about it, I thought of you. I looked it up, and it’s exactly you! It’s considered a phenomenon, ya know.” My Aunt was excited to be reminded to deliver the “good” news.
Interested, I took a bite of the world’s crunchiest and most delicious salad from my upside down fork, with a raised eyebrow and a grin, “A phenomenon?”
By the time our lunch ended, I felt better than when it started. I can’t quite remember the other pieces of our talk or why I started out upset, but I remember going home to find out why the things I have felt all my life, are apparently strange and uncommon.”
In my research I found that it is indeed a phenomenon. There are different types, and from my understanding, there are categories on somewhat of a spectrum of types. In my case, any given situation or scenario that, for whatever reason, left an impression, I am able to replay upto an entire day just because, for instance, I smelled the powder my Nana used; I was five or six.
All it took was opening the bathroom door. A fragrant cloud hit me in the face. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to go back to all of it; back to the time she stayed with us. A simple whiff in a bathroom I’ve never entered was all it took to transport me to another time and place. One sensation pulls at another sensation, and that pulls at another; like Barrel of Monkeys. I embraced the familiar aroma to allow the full-body recollection. I see my Nana sitting on the closed, blue toilet, smiling at me. On my cheek, I feel the gentle tickle of the small, pink, plushy powder puff she used to apply her powder. I loved that she let me pretend to have my own beauty routine and play with her puff. _Not like her cane. Don’t fuck with Nana’s cane._That led me to the little, braided strands of yarn my mother kept in the back to put in my hair. The red and blue ones remained under that sink for about six years after she left, collecting dust. The ugly, brass handles, oddly placed in the dead center of the cabinet door, making it extremely awkward to open. I can hear the long, high-pitched whistle of the settling of the toilet, post-flush. The offensive screech of the linen-closet door, next to the sink, that made me squint and pull my shoulders up to my ears. I can feel the soft, woven loops in the floor mat squeezed between my little toes as I squat to reach for the yarn hair-tie things.
The “phenomenon”, in my opinion, is that I can completely relive every sense of a memory as if it’s happening again to my whole body, provoked by things as simple as a somewhat common scent, almost thirty years later. At times, I can even recollect the date and even time of day because I’d glanced at a clock. I can usually describe that clock to the point where a reader could see it, too.
A full filing cabinet containing videos or even slideshows of moments, significant or not. When you pull it out, or even, someone else pulls it out and hands it to you, you are forced to view it as the person living the moment in virtual reality. And it comes in like a roaring freight train, with up to all of the sensations attached to the experience of either a gorgeous, scenic trip or a fucking trainwreck. “Flashback” is a vast understatement for someone with Synesthesia.
Sometimes, it is beautiful. I remember everything - with a few, very specific exceptions. I can close my eyes and make myself remember a certain joke from a holiday and the clothes everyone at the table wore, or every second of the days my babies were born, from beginning to end. I am grateful that I can retell the times of my life, as long as I can speak. I get to relive special times whenever I please, decades later, all over again.
Often and out of nowhere, my son will say, “Mommy, tell me a story.” He loves all the things I am able to remember for him; the day I met his father, funny times with the family, and he loves hearing reruns.
Not every “flashback” is blissful. Some are regrettable, violent, horrific, non-consensual, and soul-shaking. Not only are you seeing it, you are smelling it in front of your nose, hearing it with both ears, tasting it with your tongue, feeling it touch your body, decades later, all over again.
Imagine a lifetime of continuing, mostly-unaddressed trauma your brain makes your whole body go back to at the creaking squeal of the basement steps or the sight of spilled food on the floor, sometimes it’s like a redo against your will, decades later. All. Over. Again.
This is an important part of who I am and is the vibrant mix of colors that allow me to paint an image with the paintbrush that is my love for the written word.
Are you okay today? Need a new friend to check in? Write me.