Doubling Up

Don’t ask me when something happened. I will always underestimate the time that has passed. If I’m sure it was five years ago, that means it was 10.

I don’t lie; I am simply miscalculating all the damned time.

Double your estimate — that’s what my husband and I tell each other. It all started, I’m pretty sure, in the 2000s. I am still perplexed that nobody ever really got around to properly naming that decade. No wonder we got disoriented, when people spent 10 years stupefied by the burden of naming an era. What ever happened to personal responsibility?

Anyway, estimating time used to be a lot easier when we were younger and didn’t have so many decades to keep track of. I had this whole memory index business going and it was pretty accurate. Namely: Which of our four houses and one condo were we living in? Who was I pregnant with? How many kids did we have then (zero, one or two)? Was it before, during, or after I had cancer? Was it before or after my husband and I spent the year in New York?

Using this very sophisticated tool, I can accurately calculate and answer:

When did the Challenger blow up?  In the winter of 1986, when I was pregnant with our son. I was working in public broadcasting in Dallas, watching the launch, then explosion, with my co-workers. My own distress quickly moved to my son, who begin to thrash around in the womb. Everybody gathered around to feel him move — a small bit of warmth on that painful day.

When did the price spike on silver after the Hunt Brothers cornered the market?  Good question! Call on me! Oh, yes, that happened during the grueling winter of 1979-80, when my husband and I were rock-bottom broke. We sold our wedding silver at top price, which helped us get our electricity turned back on at our first house in Virginia. (Since then, we have always been grateful to the Hunt brothers, in spite of their right-wing politics, and felt quite bad when the silver market collapsed on them.)

Oh, and when did O.J. Simpson get acquitted of murder? Another good one! That was in October 1995. I was making my first visit to the oncologist to find out my treatment plan. My appointment got delayed, though, because everything stopped while the entire staff gathered around TVs and radios for the verdict. And, oh man, talk about bitter! Here, that little rat O.J. got away with murder while I, a non-killer, had to go through chemotherapy.

OK, since you’re so smart, when did the stock market hit its lowest point in the past 50 years? I am now tired of answering questions.

You don’t know, do you? Go away.

Ha! Shut up.

Anyway, I think I already proved my point, which is that it’s easier to keep track of when something happened when you’re young and there’s lots of action in your life you can tie events to and remember them forever.

Right now, though, I’m feeling all right about my husband’s and my strategy of doubling our estimates of time. If we don’t have colorful events like going broke, getting our electricity turned off, or starting chemo to stoke our memories, I may be just fine with that.

(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Please read The Ballad of the Sick Husband


9 comments… add one
  • We joke about this in our house too. My husband always underestimates how long ago something was (including his own birth – he cannot remember how old he is and routinely has to ask me since he underestimates that too). We recently saw an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee in which the guest (I can’t remember who it was!) said that everything happened 10 years ago. When you don’t know, you default to 10 years. I can sometimes pick it apart by figuring out which kid was in which grade and where we lived.

  • Amen to all this, Ruth. I remember the Challenger because it was the day after I gave birth, and all the nurses were gathered in my room, watching tv. Otherwise, I’d never ever remember. It could be last year, last month, or twenty years ago.

  • Linda Cox Link

    Love this one, Ruth. My biggest: “When did the Oklahoma City bombing take place? April 1995 when I was lying on a hospital bed on San Antonio ready to have my stem cells re-infused during a stem cell transplant to fight my breast cancer, thinking how small my problems were compared to all those babies in the day care who died

  • merr Link

    I feel normal now and, going forward, will routinely adopt the doubling-up rule of time gauging, attributing to you, dear Ruth.

  • I definitely need to peg certain events to other things before I can even come close to remembering how long ago something was. I am indeed finding that is ALWAYS longer than I first think.

  • I have no idea when anything happened as is quite evident with the medical forms they keep asking me to fill out at the doctor’s office. I’m sure if you lined them all up, there would be different answers for every question that required a date.

  • Like Heather wrote, I’m not good at estimating when something happened, no matter if it was years ago or last month. So if I did the double-up method, I don’t think it would help. It sounds like a good idea for the less time-absentminded.

  • I think doubling the time is a good go-by standard. I can remember the big things – deaths, liver transplants, baby births, etc.

  • I find this very frustrating, too. I used to be able to count on my husband’s sterling memory, but at 75 he has found it beginning to fade. Yikes! No fun this getting old.

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