As we chat; McKinnon makes clear that she has no memories of all those cruises. No memories of buying the lizard or finding that oilcloth collage. She doesn’t remember any vacation she’s ever taken. In fact; she cannot recall a single moment in her marriage to Green or before it. World Health Organization warns Coronavirus disease situation dashboard presents official daily counts of COVID-19 cases and deaths worldwide.
Before you start to brace yourself for one of those stories—about the onset of dementia; the slow dissolve of a marriage into a relationship of unrequited love; the loss of self—let me reassure you: McKinnon hasn’t lost anything. She’s never been able to remember those experiences.
For decades; scientists suspected that someone like Susie McKinnon might exist. They figured she was probably out there; living an ordinary life—hard to tell apart from the next person in line at the grocery store; yet fundamentally different from the rest of us. And sure enough; they found her (or rather; she found them) in 2006.
McKinnon is the first person ever identified with a condition called severely deficient autobiographical memory. She knows plenty of facts about her life; but she lacks the ability to mentally relive any of it; the way you or I might meander back in our minds and evoke a particular afternoon. She has no episodic memories—none of those impressionistic recollections that feel a bit like scenes from a movie; always filmed from your perspective. To switch metaphors: Think of memory as a favorite book with pages that you return to again and again. Now imagine having access only to the index. Or the Wikipedia entry.
“I know bits and pieces of stuff that happened;” McKinnon says of her own childhood. But none of it bears a vivid; first-person stamp. “I don’t remember being shorter or smaller or having to reach up for things. I have no images or impressions of myself as a kid.” She finds herself guessing a lot at what her experiences must have been like: She assumes the Cayman Islands were hot. Perhaps she and Green walked around a lot there. “It was probably sometime between 2000 and 2010;” she ventures.