Words are getting sneakier. Halfway through a sentence, the operative word will see me coming and slink back into the crowd. Slipping away like a master pickpocket in a crowded London train station, the word disappears among the rest of the flotsam in my brain. Cleverly, it does not hide among other, similar words. I stand with my mouth open in mid-sentence waiting for the possibilities to reveal themselves. But nothing comes. There are no synonyms, no alternatives, just a blank, empty space waiting to be filled with the singular word that has escaped.
If I have provided enough context in the sentence I was in the middle of, a helpful listener might take over for me and pluck the absent word out of his own gray matter. A quick, grateful nod and I’m on my way again. If, however, the listener is not a mind-reader, we will face each other helplessly while I get increasingly agitated at my inability to capture the word I need. An impatient listener will try to maintain an indifferent demeanor only to drop the pretense and radiate aggravation, thereby increasing my desperation.
One expects to forget names, or where they put their keys, but where do these words go? There does not seem to be any commonality among them, although the lousy memory I have had all my life precludes my stating that as absolute fact. So let us assume that I am right, that the words are all strays, unrelated to any grander lexicon. What makes a seemingly innocuous word turn feral, afraid to join its brethren even when it is desperately desired? And is there a way to coax it back, or is it better to let it go, abandon the thought that required it and move on?
I worry about what this means. As far as I can recall, neither of my parents ever have trouble producing the words they need to flesh out their thoughts. It’s true, my father will sometimes ask to go home when he is sitting in his house, but he’s quite articulate. And my mother will repeat something she told me earlier, but with admirable lucidity. My word loss strikes me as a more serious problem. I like to talk, and tell stories. If my speech comes to resemble Swiss cheese, dotted with holes where important words should be, who will listen to me?
It would be a kindness, a mitzvah, if those of you who are also of a certain age would assure me that I am not alone. That you, too, misplace words the way other people misplace car keys. And if it takes you a moment to find the words, I promise to wait patiently.