Fourth grade. Playground. You’re not in my class, but I know you. You: Fire-engine red hair, stereotypical attitude, tomboy looks, no-cares personality. Me: Shy, nerdy, lanky and somewhat indifferent. We’re choosing teams. You’re captain of the first. “I want him,” you say, your finger pointed like the barrel of a pistol in my direction. I walk over, take your hand. We form two lines, each team facing the other. “Red Rover, Red Rover…” The popular kid is dared over. I feel your sweaty palm; your thick nails grind into my skin. We brace for impact. His bony legs speed in our direction. I close my eyes. Then: his torso on my forearm. Your tight grip clutches tighter. His body bounces back. He doesn’t make it through. “That’s how it’s done!” you exclaim, your face full of pride. I let out an audible sigh of relief. On the inside, I feel delight.
Force is the measure of mass times acceleration. Acceleration is the mathematical quantification of how quickly the velocity of an object changes. Velocity — that is, the change in distance divided by the change in time — is a measure of the rate of modification in an object’s position. An estimated 3,300 Newtons (a 742 pound-force) has a one-in-four chance of cracking an average persons rib, while a femur can break at 4,000 Newtons (an 899 pound-force). The average fourth-grade female weighs 72 pounds, while her average male counterpart weighs 92. The average ten-year-old can run a mile in just over nine minutes. The average 40-year-old male can dead lift 155 pounds without training. A Bronco weighs over 4,500 pounds.
News travels fast. Especially around these parts. Everyone in this podunk-town has met one another at least once. When the new family moved up the holler— a once in a decade occurrence in our neck of the woods — we all took turns driving past their house, trying to figure out who they were, dust from the route billowing behind our piece-of-junk cars, tire grooves carving into barely-traveled gravel roads until we had to call the state to plead for more rocks to be thrown down. It’s like that here. Everybody knows everything about everyone else. Living here, you get used to it. So when you died, we all knew in a matter of hours. You were ten. Almost eleven. Your dad was driving. You reached over from the rear seat, tried to smack your smart-aleck brother in the front. Your father saw your outstretched hand in the mirror. He furiously stepped on the brake, turned his head to tell you to quit. The force of the halt sent you lunging forward. They say you snapped your freckled neck in much the same way we kids would snap the heads off dandelion’s we’d pluck in the field by the schoolhouse. You died in an instant. At your funeral, your mother and father wept hysterically, giant tears of anguish streaming down their leathered cheeks. Their cries would drown the sound from the music being played through the old tape deck borrowed just for this service. Your brother, your sisters — they just looked on, blank stares and tears welling in their eyes, gazing at your open casket, your ginger locks framing your cherubic face, until it became too much and they asked to leave. Afterwards, your father was not the same. In the years that followed, he’d distance himself from those around him. He died under a Bronco mounted on cement blocks, lying under it to fix something, the bricks giving way and the vehicle falling. The weight was too much for his body to hold, the force crushing his bones, leaving battered marks all over his thin frame. He died in an instant. The whole town would know in just a few hours.
Memory is believed to be the outcome of the brain consciously registering and encoding a fact or event, which is glued in consolidation and then retrieved as a thought. Recalling facts and events is the best way to boost a specific memory, as it strengthens that memory’s neural pathway, making it easier to recall with each retrieval. The average human brain has 100-billion neurons. Each neuron is connected to another through a system of synaptic junctions, which enables signals to be sent from one region of the brain to another.
In a game of Red Rover, when the last player is called over, he or she must break through linked arms to be considered the winner. If blocked, the opposing team wins. The odds of an individual winning rise with increased strength and practice. Likewise, in order for one to embed a memory, he or she should also practice the thought, over and over again, until it is consolidated in the brain’s neural system and able to be recalled quickly. Memory, then, can be thought of as a game — a matter of practice, of acquiring mental strength. But, like any game of strength or skill, those who hold a greater force often become the winner. Some memories are harder to block; those are the ones that will end up getting through.
Photo: netzanette via flickr (CC 2.0)