November 27th, 2006


Persistence of Memory: Eric Biegeleisen's Brother's Birthday

I come across old memories the way my mother comes across bizarre items in her junk drawer.

"Ok," she'll say, holding up the dismembered legs of a Fischer-Price lion, sealed neatly in a ziplock bag, "Why on earth was I holding on to that for so long?

And I never know--why AM I holding on to these for so long? What is my need to remember that after getting my tonsils out at age five, my neighbor, Neysa, bought me a stuffed green and yellow snail that you could wind around your arm? What had I planned on doing with this information? In my mother's case she throws them away ("If anyone's looking for those plastic legs, they're in the garbage," she cautions) and in my own case, I write them down. I write down everything. I remember reading a quote by someone who described writing as being "like breathing" for him, but it is much more like urination for me. It's a cleansing act--one of relief and "getting everything out," with the two main differences being that

a.) my mother does not excitedly show my urine to people, and

b.) Asparagus doesn't make my writing stink.

For a long time the crown jewel in my collection of "memories I don't know why I have" was the date of Eric Biegeleisen's Brother's Birthday. It was May 19th. Eric Biegeleisen was a perfectly nice boy in my elementary school with very straight bangs who everybody liked. He moved away in 2nd or 3rd grade, but I remember going to his house in Treetop circle (we were maybe 7, maybe 8) and walking around in the rain under a rainbow umbrella. And he mentioned that his brother's birthday was May 19th and I, for whatever reason, remembered it forever.

I have forgotten faces and names, appointments, birthdays. I have forgotten, at times, where I am or why I am walking in the direction I am walking. I can never remember where I put my keys or my bag, but I never forgot Eric Biegeleisen's Brother's Birthday.

Long after Eric moved away to god-knows-where (Maine, I think) I was using this memory as an example of my ability to remember random bits of information that I did not want-- Eric Biegeleisen hadn't been around for nearly a decade and I had never actually MET his brother-- the fact that I knew his birthday was certainly indicative of something about my retention of useless facts.
I would rattle it off and people would seem confused, occasionally impressed. Much of the reason for using this specific example, I confess, was that I just liked saying his last name (Beagle-EYESS-en) and the alliteration of the phrase "Eric Biegeleisen's Brother's Birthday."
And I continued using it until 12 grade when, while tossing it off for some inane reason or another, I was confronted by Danny Kaplan who said, "But that's not his birthday."

"Yes it is," I said.

"No it isn't," he said again.

And I stopped. How could that not be his birthday? How could I have remembered it wrong?

"I stayed friendly with Eric for a while," Danny said. "I don't know his brother's exact birthday, but I'm almost positive that's not it."

And with that I suddenly questioned everything I had ever remembered? Did Neysa really buy me that stuffed green and yellow snail, or had it been someone else? Did the snail exist at all or was it just something I had seen on TV? Did the whole operation really happen? Maybe I still had my tonsils...

"Don't be ridiculous," my mother said. "Your tonsils are gone. I remember the operation and of course it actually happened."

I took her word for it until I could further investigate the situation, but all I could think about was how my memory had let me down.

Eric Biegeleisen's Brother's Birthday was not May 19th.

I was crushed. My allegedly tonsil-less self could not believe I had just made it up out of thin air, but there was no way to find out where on earth he had disappeared to and there was certainly no one else who would know. All my memories could have been just as easily fabricated and each memory since has been treated with caution-- like a good friend who might be lying to you.

Life goes on, whether we remember all of it or not, and two weeks ago I received this myspace message:

hey raquel!
I am betting you don't remember me...The last name is Biegeleisen....if that helps...
I, of course, like most others get rathered bored at work from time to time...and thought, why not search myspace for folks from Clarkstown South, the likely high school for those from Link Elementary.
Anyhow, I certainly wouldn't have recognized you, but I can't forget your name!
Anyhow, it would be cool to see what everyone from old Link is up to these days.... the hell are you?


His brother's birthday is indeed, May 19th.

He did move to Maine, he did live in Treetop circle, he does not remember whether or not he ever owned a rainbow umbrella. And if you want to see the Green and Yellow snail that Neysa bought me when I got my tonsils out, it might still be in a Hefty bag in our attic.