Of Liars

Lying is indeed an accursed vice.
Montaigne, “Of Liars”

I forget. Birthdays, appointments, the names of close friends, even the day of the week of late. I blame it on midlife pregnancy, on a long Latin word my friend Camille told me last week—a fancy phrase that I’ve forgotten.

I used to have a photographic memory, which always felt vaguely as if I were cheating on my college tests. Now I am happily disburdened of such guilt. Now I remember haphazardly, idiosyncratically. I remake the past to suit myself, a crazy quilt of recollection. I unnerve acquaintances by recalling intimate details long ago revealed—an erotic fantasy, a favorite book, an ungenerous opinion— but ask me what I ate for lunch the day before, and I am defeated.

“To err is human, to forgive divine,” we say, so what better means to facilitate godlike generosity than a lousy memory? “Forgive and forget” gets the matter wrong, backwards, for nothing heals faster than poor recall. Forget—and all is forgiven.

This memory loss has been long in coming, and I know I am not alone. Bad memory is our national habit, allergic as we Americans are to history. There are others worse than I. My friend Cheryl, not long after marrying her second husband, found herself seated among strangers at a literary dinner in Portland where, to her horror, she found she could not recall her new husband’s name…

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