On my day off, as I am often wont to do, I was reading one of the latest in a line of thriller novels that are my preferred genre, when I came upon a quote that immediately struck me. The two main characters were in a car and the one, after hearing a story of a memory told by the other, remarked that “all memory is fiction.” It’s almost insulting to read something like this because it implies on the face of it that we are all liars, even if unintentionally so. But then….you start digging into it a little more. I remembered a conversation I had had with my mom about a week back, after she had read a previous entry about my brother. She gave her thoughts on it and then, at the end, she remarked how she didn’t remember screaming. I insisted that it was a very clear memory of mine and she didn’t doubt it. She just could not remember doing it. As we talked more, I had mentioned about how dad had come home at a particular time and point in the evening, but mom corrected me and said that no, he had actually been at home earlier than I had originally remembered. Flashing forward to coming upon and reading this passage, I realized just how right the author was.
Think about a particular memory of yours for a second. Try to remember everything you can about it. You have the image right? Now write it down on a piece of paper. Okay now wait a week, think about it and write it down on another piece of paper without looking at the previous one. Is it the same? Or maybe some insignificant detail changed. The grass was a different shade of green. It was cloudy, not sunny. You were on the left instead of the right. Maybe you forgot to add something the second time that you had put the first. There’s probably a 95% chance that it is different in some way. Or maybe you think about what you did two days ago and it appears instantly. Then you think about two weeks ago and it doesn’t come back so easily. We are born on the planet for, unless you believe in reincarnation, one time. And there are going to be moments, heck maybe even years of your life that your memory will decide, poof! Gone! You didn’t need to remember that. Does that not feel like the ultimate betrayal? Maybe you are like me, and its not just those moments from years or weeks, but days, hours ago that disappear with some regularity. Life literally slips away and those minutes of time add up to hours, days, and potentially years of existence that fall away as water down a drain rather than working as waves consistently lapping upon shore. It seems so cruel, so senseless. But then, we might begin to understand what the author is getting at.
Memory is the story created, the writer and the editor all at once. Fiction is born of an idea that has semblance or presence to the real world of which, once it is finished, it will join. But its transitions, its moments of filler that connect one thing to another are created and much like memory, capable of many different paths. We believe we have the capability to keep it to one, but as time makes its march, so too does memory. As it does so, it begins to lose the proverbial bread crumbs that can lead out of the darken forest. An idea held so crystal clear at the onset, has the unfortunate inevitability of growing more and more opaque as the dust forms when we cannot clean it with as much regularity. It is too crass to simply call ourselves liars. When the cracks begin to form, we need to find a way to paper them over, save the foundation that the building where the memory is housed rests. To do so, sometimes the brain has to put something in that seems like what we are attempting to recall. It appears to us to fit the mood, the situation, the scene. It becomes the prop by which we can enact the performance either to ourselves or others. Then they wear out and require replacement, but they are never quite exactly the same as before. So yes, memory is fiction but it has to be in order to be maintained. We are all physically and mentally created creatures, all deriving, determining, and demanding that our stories are saved for posterity both in our lifetimes and in those of the ones who come after us. We are living novels all walking along hoping that others might decide that they want to take us down from the shelf and read us. Some take the opportunity to spend a long time studying us while others take a few moments and realize the tale holds no interest for them. So I guess, in the end, we can do all we can to keep every single memory in a glass shelf, constantly maintained and checked for contamination. But maybe its just a little easier and a little saner to simply let our stories form and be what they may. Memory may just be fiction. But it is a story created from synthesized realities. And at the end of the day, they are our stories. The only one who can take them away…is ourselves.