Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Amnesia

When I was five years old, I walked into my next-door neighbor's house. 

"Crorey?  Are you OK?"

I did not understand the question.  The nice lady asked me what had happened, and I couldn't tell her.  She told me I needed to go to my own house, and I didn't know where it was.  Or, for that matter, what it was. She walked me next door, and handed me off to my mom.  Who I did not recognize.

With no idea what had happened, mom took me to the emergency room (not my only visit during my childhood years, a fact specifically shared to astonish nobody who has ever met me).  The doctor examined me, and had no real explanation to give. 

"It is just amnesia.  Something happened, and he has lost his memory.  He'll most likely start remembering things in the next couple of days."

Sure enough, as I did my sleepwalking routine through the next few days, I re-learned my kindergarden teacher's name.  I re-learned my address.  I re-cognized my parents and my baby sister.  I learned the names of my school friends and my neighborhood friends.

I had forgotten everything.  It remains one of the most bewildering feelings of my life.

We have all recently seen evidence of false remembering in the media.  Brian Williams lost credibility as a news reporter when he re-told the stories that he had participated in, embellishing and re-creating the event to put himself closer to the action than was actually the case.

My family has a long and storied history of doing just that.  The re-telling gets different and different until the original subjects no longer recognize themselves in the story.  In response, my family has two different (pre-programmed) responses:
  1. The family motto ("never let facts get in the way of a good story" - which doesn't really sound better in Latin*) and, 
  2. "This is MY story, and I am telling it MY way.  When it is YOUR turn, YOU can tell the story YOUR way!"
I don't mean that Brian Williams gets a pass for revising his story.  I just am saying that I know how it happens.  Especially when you tell stories over and over again.  The rhythm of the story, and the truth of the story, is not changed by changing the players. 

We all do some revisionist history for the past. The dead, particularly, are subject to intense memory whitewashing.  Richard Nixon, Michael Jackson, Dean Smith, Roger Goodell (OK, that last one is just wishful thinking) - all had reputations that got burnished after they died.  And how many artists have their work increase in value after they are dead?  In contrast to the words Bill put in Brutus' mouth, often the good that men do often does live on after them, as people tend to forget the evil.... and leave it interred with their bones.

It is a human fact, that our memories are malleable.  We remember things differently.  We forget things.  We intensify some memories, and let others dim.  And sometimes we remember things long forgotten.

Seven years later...

"Mom, you remember that time I fell off the stone wall and hit my head?"

"Um.... no.  I don't remember that.  When did it happen?"

"I don't know.  I just remember it really hurting. I don't remember what we did afterwards about it."

It took Mom a while to put the two memories together, and realize that I had described the event that had led to my amnesiac episode.

Stolen from Watterson
*numquam diffidens impediant bibamus?  numquam adducantur intercedi bibamus?
 

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