I've kept a daily diary for more than 20 years. As soon as I record a day, I forget most of it. That's the point -- the diary gives me permission to forget, lets me make room for the practical things I need to remember.
Sometimes, just to see what I'll find, I return to a day from 5, 10, 15 years ago. Sometimes it's about what I ate. Often it's like reading about someone else's life. But it all slowly returns. Some entries are miniature histories of places I'll never see again; as I read, their long-forgotten details become startlingly vivid.
1996, a falafel sandwich from a food cart. That day it rained so hard during my lunch break, and I stood in the archway of my building in a knot of people, watching the fast, tiny storm pass overhead until it was gone.
1997, a meatloaf sandwich with my boyfriend and his mother. There was mayonnaise on the bread. I couldn't believe his mother, such a sophisticated person, would use mayonnaise from a jar. There was another guest, a newspaper editor, to whom she spoke perfect French.
2001, a lamb sausage sandwich in a Middle Eastern restaurant. Shortly after I finished eating it, I played the best pool game of my life. I held my breath as I watched my bank shot sink the eight ball. Afterward my date gave me a fatherly hug that we laughed about for months.
I try to document the moments that, while intense, contain nothing momentous. They're the events most likely to fade, and their details are precious. When I read about a 15-year-old sandwich, I travel not just to a forgotten time, but to a forgotten self. I recall not simply what I ate, but who I was.
Sarah Manguso is the author of Ongoingness: The End of a Diary.
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