It’s difficult to recall a random memory, in all its glorious detail, on demand. But when I smell a certain scent or hear a particular song they come flooding back. An onslaught of immaculate detail. Years and years later. Even the memories I didn’t know I had.
Like when I hear Black Eyed Peas’ “I got a feeling” I am immediately transported to a sunny winter morning in August 2009; to a hostel room on the day of my matric farewell. There are six other girls with me. We are singing at the top of our lungs. Dresses hanging from the doorknobs. I can feel our excitement. (One of us only exists in memory now.)
Or whenever I smell pine I am in the Witfontein forest. If I close my eyes I can see the lush foliage; 360 degrees of green. I can hear every waterfall. I can feel the soft bed of pine needles under my feet. My mom is always there. And Morgan, carrying a log or a pinecone, tail wagging.
The sound of rain reminds me of wintery evenings spent around my parents’ fireplace. There are glasses of Amarula on the table. There are dogs on couches. And humans on cushions on the floor. Ugg boots belonging to various pairs of feet lying next to them. I can hear us laughing. All is well with the world.
Shania Twain – dancing on my stepdad’s bar counter, hairbrush-come-microphone in hand. I feel like a woman. I am nine.
Cucumber sandwiches – also nine, sitting around my best friend’s mom’s kitchen table after school on a Wednesday. Cola tonic to wash the sandwiches down.
Aperol Spritz – I am wearing my navy-blue maritime uniform, making small talk. I feel uncomfortable. I can’t wait to take my stockings and high heels off.
A Kesha song – my old friend Jendy. Every time; without fail; I have no idea why.
Caroline Herrera 212 – My breath gets stuck somewhere in my throat. It never reaches my lungs.
A cowrie shell – walking along a beach in the Transkei. It’s September 2006. We’ve just had freshly baked bread with thick layers of apricot jam for breakfast; our parent’s have released us for the day. We’ll return sometime before sunset.
That bright green top in my cupboard – St Patrick’s Day 2015. A bar in Obs. It smells like sweat and alcohol and revelry.
Sweet and sour anything – I am sitting on a hillside at UCT Upper Campus, it’s probably 2011. I am with my first boyfriend. The sun is setting. We are eating Chinese and drinking cheap champagne out of the bottle.
The smell of mud – It’s a Sunday afternoon at the yacht club and the sun is high. I am sunburnt. My sister and I are catching fish using a towel as a net. We are anywhere between the ages of six and sixteen.
It doesn’t matter how deeply these memories are buried; somewhere in my hippocampus. Seemingly insignificant triggers bring them to life quite unexpectedly. For a moment they are no longer memories; they are happening all over again; in a fraction of a second.
I smile at the good ones. I allow them to linger a little. Nostalgic. Warm. I might even laugh out loud.
And I bury the painful ones even deeper. Make a mental note of the trigger – avoid in future.
The human memory is a curious thing.