More Than a Memory of a License Plate

Memory is a fickle thing. Today is Sunday, February 22, 2015. What’s special about today? Nothing, really. It’s exactly three days after my younger brother’s birthday and four days before mine. I’m preparing to visit one of my best friends in Tampa this week and trying to finish up some freelance work. I’m enjoying the fact that it’s sunny and melting away the four inches of snow we received yesterday.

But when I opened my laptop and saw the date displayed within my inbox, I remembered something else: ZAM171.

When I was a kid, I tried to be as prepared for adult life as I could be and paid strict attention to the numerous life lessons my dad taught me — one of which was this: if you’re ever involved in a hit-and-run, remember the license plate number.

But if involved in a traumatic event, how would I remember to look at the license plate, much less recall it? Like any prepared little girl, I decided to test myself. 

One Sunday, while in the back seat of my grandparents’ Toyota, I looked at a license plate and repeated it over and over in my head. I decided to start easy. ZAM171 seemed like a good place to start.

But what I didn’t realize is that in addition to the license plate number, I would also remember that it was Sunday, February 22 (but couldn’t remember the year). I would remember that I was on my way back from a birthday lunch with my mom’s parents, that we were on Hurstbourne Lane when I saw the license plate, and that it was afternoon and sunny.

Now when I was actually involved in a hit-and-run years later, I did get the license plate number, and the cops did find the car, but it was blue instead of silver like I described. Of course, it was night time along Hurstbourne Lane and the street lamps could have obstructed my vision. But regardless, they didn’t do anything about it, and I never fixed the dent in my car that I would later sell to save on costs in graduate school.

I never did try to remember another license plate number as a child. ZAM171 stuck with me, as well as the date. I don’t know what year it was or how old I was turning that year. But sometimes, regardless of whether they’re true, it’s the details we do remember that matter more.

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