When I was drinking, I could blame my memory lapses on blackouts. Now I have to face the fact that my scattered memory is just a comorbid condition attached to my ADHD brain.
by Frank South
I’m driving in downtown Honolulu at 4 a.m. and suddenly my rearview mirror is filled with flashing cop car lights. I pull my very junky ’83 Jetta to the curb and the Honolulu Police officer walks up and puts a flashlight on me. I hand over the license and registration, and he asks me where I’m coming from. “I’ve just finished a video shoot over at a gym, we have to shoot at night when they’re closed, it ran long, ten hours -- all my fault -- didn’t schedule the shoot the best way and should have hired an assistant to handle the lights...” I know I’ve clicked into a hypo-manic ramble but I can’t shut myself up -- every detail seems vitally important for him to understand the context of how I got to be in this situation. He’s lucky I don’t start from back in high school. Still keeping the light on me, the cop interrupts.
“What gym was this?”
“Um, the uh...” I’m not ready for that question. I can’t remember the name of the place. I was just there. There’s a huge red and yellow sign over the door of the place. I can see it in my memory but not what it says.
“It’s the one, not 24 Hour, smaller...um...”
I’m locked. There’s no way I’m coming up with the name until I’ve gotten home, put my feet up, and had a vanilla yogurt with Honey Bunches of Oats on top. I sure wish I had a bowl of that right now. But I don’t and I’m just still hopelessly stammering on -- now describing the red and yellow sign in detail to the cop.
“It’s not neon, it’s like a big light box with the front painted and a picture or more like an icon, really, of a guy lifting weights...”
He interrupts again.
“You know you ran a stop light back there?”
“I did? Oh. I didn’t see it.” That’s obvious. What isn’t obvious is what I was preoccupied with that caused me not to see the light. Just as I open my mouth to start to explain that, the cop hands me back my license and registration, pointing out that the registration needs to be renewed, and says he’s letting me off with a warning. I’m grateful, but I think he just figured that if he had to listen to one more minute of my ping-ponging, hyper-detailed chatter, he’d put a bullet in my head. And then there would be all that paperwork.
The next day, my wife Margaret says he let me go because he was probably looking for drunk drivers. Lucky thing he didn’t stop you a few years ago, she says. No doubt, but back when I was drinking I was actually better at keeping my mouth shut when I was in conflict with authority figures. I didn’t want them to smell the booze. Also, when I was drinking, I could blame my memory lapses on blackouts. Now I have to face the fact that my scattered memory is just a comorbid condition attached to my ADHD brain that makes for constant surprises. I hate surprises.
Case in point -- two weeks later I’m pulled over by another cop because my registration sticker is out of date. I had completely spaced the last cop’s warning. In the course of things, she asks me what my phone number is. I squint into her flashlight. I should be ready for this question -- it's so easy. But no.
“Uh, its...37...no wait, its 932...no...”
I start to explain that numbers on demand are a challenge for me, especially when I’m questioned by authority figures. Even at the Safeway checkout line when you’re supposed to type it in to the little pad if you don’t have your Safeway Club card, which I lost the minute I got it. She doesn’t care. She just hands me a ticket and sends me home.
At home, I put my feet up with a bowl of yogurt and cereal and wait. The lock-box in my head opens, and my phone number tumbles out, a happy little useless surprise. But I quietly repeat it over and over to myself as I eat. I’ll be ready the next time.