Wicked Wendy and the Forgottens

It was the summer of 1985, back when I was still adjusting to the life of a young married woman and still adapting to the community to which my husband had moved us.  Most of my lazy summer weekends were spent hanging out at the marina or sunning at the lake during the day and attending follow-up parties in the park or at somebody’s house in the evening.  I was still in that “trying to fit in” mode, still trying to find my place among the other women who were all just a little bit older and a whole lot wiser, a little bit more confident and a whole lot more worldly.  Because of my introverted tendencies and my multitude of insecurities, I sometimes felt like a child-like outsider in their midst . . . but there was one thing I had in common with each and every one of them, one thing that made me a certified member of their group.

And that was my hatred of Wicked Wendy*.

Wicked Wendy was an “out of towner,” a weekend visitor who sashayed into our peaceful little lake community that summer and wreaked havoc with every wink of her wicked eye.  She was single, beautiful and wild, a leggy brunette who was built like a brick “outhouse.” And she was on the prowl.  It didn’t matter if the men were committed to their girlfriends or their wives; all men were targeted, and any man who didn’t immediately flee from Wicked Wendy’s shameless flirting would soon be subjected to her all-out, full-frontal attack (if you know what I mean), which would then be followed by a vicious, verbal rebuke from his committed other.

Most of the men were afraid of Wicked Wendy (or afraid of the trouble she would get them into), but we women just hated her–hated her with a passion that would normally be reserved for the killers of baby seals, the kickers of puppies and the takers of the last piece of Godiva chocolate.

Or at least, that’s what I’ve been told.

A few weeks ago, 27 years after the Summer of Wicked Wendy, my husband mentioned her in a conversation (I don’t remember why).  When I asked him who Wicked Wendy was, he looked at me strangely and said, “You can’t be serious.  You don’t remember Wicked Wendy?”

“I have no idea who or what you’re talking about,” I responded.

He looked at me strangely again.  “No . . . seriously?  How can you not remember Wicked Wendy?  You HATED her!  In fact, you forbid me to even talk to her, and if we were somewhere and she showed up, you insisted we leave.  Do you really not remember that?”

“Again, I have no idea what you’re talking about!”  And at that point I was pretty sure he was just making up the whole story to mess with my head, something that I thought he had been doing a lot recently–telling me about things I had done or said that I knew I hadn’t.

“I can’t believe you really can’t remember her.  Ask Sue about her–she’ll remember.  Or ask Linda.  You all hated her.”  By then I was more than a little miffed with my husband and more than a little tired of his antics, and I walked away from the conversation.

I didn’t think anymore about that conversation or the imaginary Wicked Wendy until a couple weeks later when I happened to be on a trip with the aforementioned Linda.  I started telling her about the conversation I had had with my husband about this “bad woman” who had invaded our community one summer long ago, this woman whom I had supposedly hated and whom all the other women had hated, too.  Before I got any further, Linda interrupted me: “Oh, you mean Wicked Wendy?  Yeah, we all hated her and talked something terrible about her!  She hit on every man around.”

When I told Linda I had no memory of Wicked Wendy, she was incredulous.  “How could you not remember her?” she asked, and then she continued to rattle on with stories that she was sure would jog my memory . . . but no.  I couldn’t remember.  I tried to make a joke of it, even accusing Linda of being “in cahoots” with my husband, but my heart was pounding in my ears, and I was fighting back tears as reality came crashing down around me.  How could I forget someone who had supposedly elicited such a strong emotional reaction from me?

And then I started thinking of all the other times recently when I had supposedly forgotten events and conversations from the past.  Sometimes former students–and sometimes my own children–would regale me with stories from years ago.  I often remembered a slightly different (and much more accurate) version of their stories, but just as often I didn’t remember their stories at all–although I would nod my head in agreement anyway and laugh in all the appropriate places.  And sometimes I would engage in rather heated arguments with my husband over comments he said I had made or actions he said I had taken because I knew–I knew–that he was wrong.

But now I wasn’t so sure.

I was, however, scared.  What other memories were lost that I just didn’t realize yet?  What other important bits and pieces had disappeared into the black hole of forgottens?  I know a certain degree of forgetfulness is common as we age–we all sometimes walk into a room and forget why, we all sometimes forget previously scheduled commitments, we all sometimes forget where we’ve placed our car keys or our cell phones or our glasses–but forgetting the existence of an entire person?  That can’t be normal.

And so my husband began occasionally testing my memory with random stories from our shared history.  Some stories I remembered with perfect clarity down to the minutest of details, but others . . . others were completely gone.  I couldn’t remember deciding a couple years ago that we could afford his new car (a financing plan that I had supposedly come up with), I couldn’t remember long ago when our oldest son peeled the wallpaper off our bathroom wall right after I had finished hanging it (I was supposedly livid), and I couldn’t remember giving my husband a new leather motorcycle jacket for his birthday one year (supposedly the best gift I had ever given him).

And even worse than knowing I had forgotten so many events from my past was the realization–the fear–that I didn’t know why.

When my dad passed away last year, he had been suffering from dementia for several years.  His doctors had assured us (and we had believed) that his dementia was the result of years of alcoholism, but what if they had been wrong? What if the alcoholism had only enhanced the dementia–what if his dementia was actually a result of a genetic mutation, and what if I had inherited that mutated gene?  Could I possibly be experiencing the early signs of dementia?  Surely I’m too young for such mental decline.  But . . .

My mom was born with a cerebral arteriovenous malformation (an AVM), a mass of jumbled arteries and veins in her brain that over time allowed blood to pool and resulted in headaches, seizures, and eventually memory loss and strokes.  And it was one of those strokes that took her life at the young age of 63.  Most AVMs are not hereditary, but a few are.  Could I have a similar jumbled mass in my brain, and could I just now be exhibiting signs of its existence?

When I’m being logical, I know the chances that I have inherited one of these genetic anomalies from my parents are incredibly minuscule.  But I’m not always logical.  I am a world class worrier and a preposterous ponderer of what ifs, and sometimes I let my fears control me.  This is one of those times.

Last week I happened across a post on a friend’s Facebook page about seven ingredients to avoid in our food in order to achieve better health.  One of those ingredients was aspartame, an ingredient frequently found in diet sodas and artificial sweeteners.  This wasn’t news to me; in fact, I had recently given up my diet sodas on the advice of a reader, believing there was a possible link between them and my daily headaches, my nightly insomnia and my frequent joint aches and muscle cramps. And I had known for a long time that many doctors and nutritionists advise against using aspartame–but even though I had known this, I had still guzzled my diet sodas and laced my iced tea with little pink packets, reasoning that I could have much worse vices and that any small problems caused by the ingestion of aspartame were outweighed by the promise of zero calories.  What was news to me in my friend’s post, though, was that aspartame had been linked to memory loss.  Alarm bells started ringing in my head.  Could aspartame have done this to me?  (In other words, could I have done this to myself?)

I started researching the possibility, and even though I could find no conclusive evidence, what I did find was still disturbing.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of aspartame in dry goods in 1981 and in carbonated beverages in 1983, and despite numerous studies and countless claims to the contrary, the FDA has always maintained that aspartame is a safe food additive.  On the other hand, aspartame is composed of aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol, and all three of these chemicals have been individually linked to neurological problems.  Is it that much of a stretch, then, to believe that all three of these chemicals in combination could create a Molotov cocktail for brain malfunction, an incendiary recipe for mental disaster?  For over two decades I have been voluntarily pouring these chemicals into my body–have I been killing off brain cells with every 12-ounce can of diet delight, digging “memory holes” with every tiny swallow of artificial sweetness?  And if so, is it too late to reverse the damage I’ve done–or at the very least, can I prevent future damage by steering clear of all those nasty chemicals?

I hope I am being needlessly worrisome and unnecessarily pessimistic.  I hope that my fears are unfounded–that I am just experiencing some temporary “brain fog” that will soon lift and turn my dreary skies a sunshiny blue again.  In the meantime, I am trying to be pro-active.  I have eliminated aspartame from my diet just to be safe, and I have an appointment today with a doctor of naturopathy** who will assess my diet and lifestyle and help me find natural, healthy ways to improve my physical and mental well being.  Together maybe we can also decide if further testing is needed to determine if a problem other than diet might be the cause of my forgetfulness.

One thing I know for sure right now is that, silly or not, I am scared.  Buddha said, “The mind is everything.  What you think you become.”  I have never been particularly fond of my reflection in the mirror, but I have always been rather proud of my little brain and all the real and imaginary places it has taken me, all the joy and humor and insight it has given me.  And I have always believed that even when my appearance faded and my physical health deteriorated, I would still have my mind to comfort me.  But what happens to ME, the person I am, the person I want to be, if I can no longer use my mind for all those glorious endeavors and all those luxurious lapses into wonder and enlightenment?  If the mind is everything and mine stops functioning properly, will I become nothing, just a mere shell with emptiness inside?

And the only other thing I know for sure right now is that if Wicked Wendy were to suddenly appear in the corridors of my brain, sashaying her voluptuous hips and winking her evil eye, I would run to her with arms thrown wide and tell her how very much I’ve missed her.

*”Wicked Wendy” was a real person (or so I’ve been told); the name I have chosen to use for her is not.

**According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances which encourage the person’s inherent self-healing process. 

sandia cloudsA photo I took recently of storm clouds rolling in over the Sandia Mountains outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Note the sunset trying to break through the thick cloud bank–a possible metaphor for my brain on aspartame?

About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
This entry was posted in Aging, Fears, Food, Health and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Wicked Wendy and the Forgottens

  1. Sometimes I worry about aging, forgetting, etc. My husband died at age 51 of dementia, so I have some indirect experience. A postmortem did not reveal a genetic or physical reason for his developing the disease. A few thoughts which may or may not be helpful . . .
    1) Everybody forgets things. It doesn’t matter what a person’s age is (“You remember your Aunt Martha — she gave you a book when you were four”), how often (“Put the toilet seat down”), or the degree of importance at the time (the clothes you absolutely had to have for the first day of class in seventh grade). The older you are, the more stuff is crammed into your brain. Just like a computer, the more files you download, the more likely there will be a problem retrieving them. This can happen with a physically perfect computer or brain. Some files/memories become so fragmented that they are useless. People are right when they say that forgetting where you put the car keys is no big deal and presages nothing except a delay in starting the car, but forgetting how to drive is a sign of dementia.
    2) Stephen was Mr. Health Nut. It made no known difference to that which killed him.
    3) Except for anti-matter, the human body can tolerate some of every substance without noticeable effect. Name three substances which in sufficiently high concentration won’t kill a human. Some compounds are more toxic than their constituent parts. Some compounds are less toxic than their constituent parts. The trick is determining when to start worrying about the quantity of consumption of something rather than spending time stressing over whether one is consuming any of it. Stress kills — and when it doesn’t kill, it ruins everything.
    4) Aspartame packets are blue. (Calm down, it was just a mental typo.)
    5) You’re not Wicked Wendy’s type.

    • Thank you for sharing, Cheree. I’m very sorry for the loss of your husband, especially at such a young age and when he was otherwise healthy.

      I’ve not worried much about forgetting the small things–that’s been happening for years, and I have enough friends with the same problem that I know it’s just an unfortunate circumstance of our over-active lifestyles, inattention, and crowded brains. My computer lets me decide which files to send to the recycle bin and when to empty the trash; I wish my brain would give me the same option.

      The new doctor today made a lot of suggestions about my diet and medicines. I’m willing to give her suggestions a try to see if they make a difference. And I had to check my pink packets to make sure you were right: pink=saccharin, blue=aspartame (both of them bad). And my beloved Diet Dr. Pepper was loaded with aspartame, but I’m hoping that soon my body won’t be.

      And even though I’m not Wicked Wendy’s type, I’d sure like for her to make a brief appearance just so I can be absolutely sure that she was real.

      Thanks again!

  2. Janet says:

    Not that it’s any comfort to you (because it sure isn’t to me), I have the same problem and it does scare me…I don’t think other people realize it does though. Grandma had alzheimer’s and mom has always thought she had early signs of it (I do remember that from when I was in high school). Personally, I don’t think mom shows any signs of it. She constantly brings up things I have absolutely no recollection of…like things we did or something that happened at Christmas or something I had a strong reaction to. I don’t even have a faint memory of it. Casey and mom insist that I just remember the bad things and nothing else.

    I shift uneasily when I go home because it’s such a small town and we all supposedly know each other, yet there are people who I can’t remember what context I knew them from. With their name change and their adult face on Facebook, it’s completely thrown me. I add them as a friend anyway..because we supposed have 22 friends in common…all from Gainesville. (don’t worry…I do still remember you…you were my Creative Writing and Yearbook teacher in high school…however, beyond that I may be a little sketchy in details). I’ll be interested to hear what you find out. Mine hasn’t unnerved me to the point of asking the doctor about it (because, frankly, I feel like they’ll look at me crazy and tell me there’s nothing they can do or any way to even find it and then I’ll have to pay them money for some mysterious memory loss but can give them no specifics). So please fill me in once you find out!

    • Janet, what has been concerning me is that I can remember so many things with absolute clarity and then can’t remember some things at all–it really is as if I have holes in my brain where those memories used to be. And I know exactly what you mean about accepting friend requests–I go to their profile and see that they graduated from GHS during my employment there, so I know they are most likely a former student, but I have no recollection of the face or name.

      I was afraid to go to the doctor–afraid of what I might find out or afraid that the doctor would just think I was making it all up–so it was a relief to have my concerns taken seriously and to find that I was on the right path of discovery. I will never drink another diet soda or pour artificial sweeteners into my body. I have a lot of other changes to make, and she assures me that within a few months I’m going to feel like a new person. Another blog in the making … stay tuned. 🙂

      • Janet says:

        I hear you on the clarity and the holes. I rarely drink diet coke anymore. Maybe my memory will start coming back, too. I’ll keep reading to hear about your results (though it may be better that Wicked Wendy remains a lost memory!). 😛

  3. bronxboy55 says:

    Memory is one of those lingering mysteries that science has yet to penetrate. If we don’t know how it works, it becomes very difficult to explain why it sometimes fails. I’ve had the same experience, with similar accompanying fears. But I hope you can avoid letting those fears overwhelm you. Are there things you remember that your husband or your friends don’t? Maybe we all hold onto certain things and let others go. The longer we live, the more incidents we have to file away, and many of them lose their significance over time. Who’s to say what we should remember? As for aspartame, I won’t suggest you go back to drinking diet soda, but the FDA isn’t alone: the artificial sweetener is used all over the world, which means it’s been studied by dozens of other independent agencies, and all have deemed it safe for human consumption.

    Anyway, how do you explain that your writing keeps getting better and better?

    • Bless you, Charles, for trying (and succeeding) to make me feel better. I’ve believed for a long time that I have had such a busy, active lifestyle that there just wasn’t enough room to store all the memories–and I’ve accepted that some of the less significant memories would be dumped into the recycle bin before ever routing to long-term storage. But the recent spate of lost memories has been disturbing. I don’t think the aspartame has been the only culprit (and maybe it is even being unfairly accused when the real culprit–OLD AGE–isn’t shouldering its share of the blame). I really don’t know, but I’m willing to make some changes to my diet to see if improvements take place. It’s worth a try. Again, thank you.

  4. Kip Light says:

    I have no reassurances to offer that differ from any that have been presented already, but I will definitely toss a prayer or two hundred out there. No stranger to memory problems, i can relate to the feelings that creep up on you when you ponder the possible causes. In my case, I’m relatively certain of the culprit. Honestly, that isn’t much consolation, but it does give me something to blame it on when it’s noticed by others 😉
    No matter what, remember that, whatever it is, it is what it is and be thankful for all the other blessings in your life.

    • Thank you for the gentle reminder, Kip, and I will toss a few prayers your way, also. Regardless of the occasional memory lapses and the distress they are causing me, I still have so much for which to be thankful–as do we all. It’s a good life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s