Friday, June 18, 2010
Funny things, these memories. I'm not sure where to go with this. Do I relate some memories or talk about the fluid nature of them? Or how about the idea of collective memories and how they define us as a nations or culture? Maybe some mishmash amalgamation of all of these. Hmmm....
Well, my earliest memory fairly cements my geekdom: I remember watching Star Trek - The Original Series in my living room. I must have been all of 5. Couldn't tell you what the episode was, just that it was Star Trek. Kinda explains a lot. The next one is vaguely related and I think I may have told it before but it's a great story and worth retelling.
The summer of 1969 my family - Mom, Dad, sisters and grandfather - drove to Yellowstone National Park. Somewhere along the way, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. I was 5. My grandfather was 70-ish. He wanted to stay at the hotel and watch the landing. My sisters wanted to go visit the set for the TV show Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. They won. So while that iconic piece of television history can play as a tape in my head, I didn't witness it live.
Speaking of this episode, it relates to that idea of the fluidity of memory I spoke about. I remember that my sisters wanted to go to the film/TV set. Only problem is, this set was nowhere near where we were. I would swear to you that is what happened. But did it? Knowing that set was not even in the same state kind brings into question my entire memory.
Which would not be something new. I have lymphedema, as I've related before. In order to control the related swelling, I wore a compression garment from the age of 5 until I rebelled around age 10. Back in the day, these garments (which looked like pantyhose or tights, if those came in a really bland shade of "fleshtone") were made of stiff, rough material. When I began wearing them again as an adult, it was a nightmare. I had forgotten how uncomfortable they were to wear and how difficult to put on. They were so uncomfortable - actually that's not accurate, they were painful - I stopped wearing them rather quickly. During a discussion with my sisters after my mother died, I discovered that they had been recruited to help put on the garments when I was too young to do so by myself (they would have been 14 and 15 when I was first prescribed the hose). They admitted that they had harbored a good deal of resentment towards me at the time (which is an entire other post topic) but realized as adults that I wasn't to blame.
I have zero recollection of them ever doing this.
I believe them. Knowing what I know of how difficult they were to put on as an adult, it makes complete sense that a 5 year old would have had to have assistance. I wore them every day for 5 years. I don't once recall putting them on. At least not until I was 8 or 9 and capable of doing so myself and really only because I know I must have. Having had to help my daughter put on her own garment, I can personally attest to how awkward it is to help someone else put on what is essentially a toe-to-waist girdle. I can vaguely remember my mother helping me but not my sisters.
If my memory of what is really a defining part of my childhood can be hidden from myself, how can I ever really trust my memory? By extension, it's easy to doubt other's memory, too. After all, I know first hand how slippery the mind can be. As such, it's always amazed me how our court system places so much trust on eyewitness testimony.
Let me give you an example. When the Eldest was in second grade, one of her class mates was struck and killed by a pickup truck outside of their school. At that elementary, it was common practice for parents to line the drive and the street facing the school waiting to pick up their kids. The school had no bus service since it's attendance zone was small. Kids either walked home or got picked up. It wasn't uncommon for the driveway and street all the way to the corner to be lined with parked cars waiting for their kids. Other parents would drive past the parked cars to enter the parking lot and get out of their cars to pick up their kids. Some days, there would be cars lining the opposite side of the street as well. This was one of those days.
That day happened to be a Girl Scout day. We would meet the girls outside of the school and take them to the leader's house in our cars. Laurie and I usually parked on a side street so we wouldn't block traffic. While we were waiting for all the girls to gather at our meeting spot, there was a commotion on the street and the assistant principal ran by us a few moments later crying, he's dead, he's dead. People were moving towards the scene and we were uncertain what we should do with our girls. I was picked to go down and find out what was going on.
In the street, was this tableaux: A pick-up truck, a small boy just beyond its back wheels, a teacher (Eldest's) and a hysterical woman. There were other people as well. A man without a shirt who was distraught (the father, who I recognized.) A nurse (a mother of another 2nd grader) who was leaving the scene while wiping blood from her hands. She shook her head.
I went back and told Laurie that Michael had been hit by a truck and it didn't look good. We decided to take the girls to Laurie's house and call their parents. No Girl Scouts that day.
Now for the slippery part. The hysterical woman standing in the street being held by the teacher? I knew her.
I didn't recognize her.
My mind's eye refused to recognize her. I knew, on some level, that Michael was dead. Full size pick up truck versus an 8-year-old boy and the boy loses. I knew when the nurse/mom walked away that he was dead. And I knew that G had killed him.
She was going all of 15 or so miles an hour. Michael stepped out from behind a set of double parked cars and into her path. There was no way she could avoid him. In many ways, she was more devastated than his parents. She was literally bed ridden for days. I think that if she could have, she would have gladly died herself to bring him back.
The father of the boy who was talking with Michael before he died, before his own father called from him to cross the street, swears that G was speeding. That she drug his body under her wheels for yards. He had a direct view of the accident and was a former cop. To do what he said she did, she would have had to hit him half a block away. A trained observer couldn't accept what he was seeing. So he made something up to fit what he needed and convinced himself that was what he remembered.
The mind sees what it wants to see, remembers what it wants to remember. Just remember that what we see is filtered through our experience. Our mind can trick us. Sometimes it does so to defend itself. Sometimes, if we tell ourselves the same story often enough, it becomes a memory - like mine of the moon landing. For me at least, for memory to have a chance at accuracy, it must be a conscious act.