Walker's Memory Disorder in The Weight of Memory
I look up everything I can about memory. I am starting to
understand. This is what I learn. There are three major types of long-term
memory: semantic, procedural, and episodic.
Semantic memory is your general knowledge of the world, the
kind of things you learn in school like facts, language, and concepts.
Procedural memory is for skills, how to do things, like riding a
bike, playing a sport, or learning to type.
Episodic memory is the memory of unique experiences that
happened in a particular time and particular place.
Episodic memory is the kind of memory that is lost in psychogenic
or dissociative amnesia, the amnesia that Walker has, which is
extremely rare. It is the kind of amnesia that people, including
doctors, have trouble accepting because it is hard to understand how
someone can just say, “I don’t remember,” if he or she hasn’t suffered
a brain injury or if a neurologist can’t find anything on a brain scan
or if it isn’t Alzheimer’s.
What people don’t realize is how much we take memory for
granted. That memory is a gift. That telling stories about your past is
a gift and how debilitating it is when you lose that—when you don’t
know who you are, who your first girlfriend was, who your friends
were in high school.
I can’t imagine not remembering those days at the lake with my
father or the junior high choir with Leigh or tennis with Sarah.
They come back for Walker, these memories, but then they go
away. Everything for him is transient. For him, it is better to live
in the present. Better not to hang onto material possessions or
friends. He knows his family or closest friends will find him. He’ll
see that look of recognition and he can fake it and if he keeps faking
it eventually he will start to feel the real feelings he must have had
before. He can feel when he loves someone. He may not know them
but he can feel love.