Tuesday, August 8, 2017

memories dull the edges of my mind

I wasn't exactly a mean girl when I was younger, but I was definitely an accessory to mean girls. My little sister might say I was an actual mean girl sometimes, especially regarding possessions. But, for example, I maintain that since I'm 9 years older than her, most of the Barbie stuff was mine before it was hers so how can I be accused of stealing that tiny copper pot and besides, she's known where I keep it not locked up, in plain sight AND I'm pretty sure I've offered it to her many times in our adulthood and she won't take it. So anyway, on the periphery of mean girlness. Moving on.

Lately (which, in an almost-50-year old's brain means "in the past 20 years") I've been giving increasingly more thought to the usefulness of memories. As someone who writes & reads and encourages others to do the same, I realize the importance of memories but after having had a few instances of my very vivid, certain memories turning out to be completely unverifiable with the people involved, I am now wondering what is their real purpose if they're ultimately unreliable? 

First, the case that basically invalidated most of my 6th grade year. To set the scene, I silently but forcefully disliked nearly everything about my teacher that year: he was old, he made us run and play sports CONSTANTLY, he called my mom to admonish her for letting me eat a Pop Tart and orange juice for breakfast every morning, and each week he would dump desks that he deemed 'messy.' Now, as a lucid adult + teacher myself, I can make these adjustments: he was only about 40 that year; we ran and played soccer maybe twice a week; that is a pretty terrible diet for a preteen girl [but still, I felt bad for my mom because she left the house to work at 5:30am so not her fault I was/am still no good at nutrition]; and while I would never shame students, I do promote neatness in my classroom.

The parts of this teacher I did happen to like were his constant encouragement of my writing skills and praise for my tidy desk, which leads to the first memory I had that was blown to smithereens a few years ago: I saw the name of a boy tagged in a former classmate's 6th grade photo and immediately remembered him sitting quietly next to me at the back of the classroom, waiting for that teacher to come down the aisle to dump his desk. Every week. I had offered many times to show him how to organize his books and pencils and tissue box, reminded him to throw out crumpled papers & empty snack bags, actually rearranged his things myself + told him breathlessly, probably harshly (mean girl tendencies) when it was time to CLEAN HIS DESK! I'm starting to sweat again right now. In my twitchy memory, this kid sat with almost amused resignation, as our menacing teacher moved Gestapo-like toward us. 

I immediately sent this guy a friend request and waited, heart thumping, for him to accept so I could find out that he had fully recovered from this obviously horrible and humiliating treatment 30+ years ago. Except that when we did reconnect, he had zero memory of this situation. Nothing. In fact, he sent me a photo from his law office where boxes and papers were stacked impetuously around the room. And, inexplicably, beyond that, he said our 6th grade teacher was one of his favorites - they had gone running and rock climbing with other classmates on weekends; they'd kept in touch for many years afterward.

What?
After a tiny spark of irritation that I had spent so much mental energy trying to needlessly defend this kid's dignity for decades, I realized my own standards of what makes a good experience and solid relationship clouded my perceptions of what happened for him. (Hello, productive counseling sessions). That is, if that teacher even really dumped desks - how can I know for sure? I'm afraid to ask my friend, the classmate who posted our picture in the first place.

But then last week, I found out another situation I had been involved with (this is where the almost-but-probably-an-actual mean girl thing comes in) has apparently not lived on in the psyche of a key player. 

The summer before our Senior year, a friend & I decided to call a pay phone outside the Safeway. (I'm presuming all of my readers are old enough to know what a pay phone is, and understand why calling it randomly would be considered a fun thing to do during summer break in a small town). I think a couple of harried adults answered and hung up before we hit the jackpot with a couple of boys from our high school; we immediately became spectacular improv artists weaving elaborate storylines for ourselves: a couple of hot 18-year old girls from Las Vegas visiting our cousin. The details were embarrassingly, painfully silly and unbelievable but we had a captive, willing audience.

Fast forward to weeks later, after we've called these boys many times at their homes to talk about increasingly outrageous nonsense while somehow never being able to meet up with them in person, and school is starting so the Las Vegas girls have to return home. We promise to call again though, and that's when things become actually terrible - we notice in the halls what these guys wear then claim to have had a dream about them in those outfits, or we remark on something someone at our [pretend] school said or did, which happened to have been exactly what we saw one of our boys did that week.

Finally, because I wasn't a mean girl at heart, I decided we should stop. But also, we needed to tell them the truth. My reasoning, I (think) I remember very clearly, was that they would be confused & sad if the Las Vegas girls just stopped calling them. Somehow it seemed better in my mind to expose their utter gullibility face-to-face. To be fair to young stupid me, I saw myself as the bad guy in this scenario and thought of the reveal as more of a confession (and absolution, of course) of my crime. Regardless, I told "my" guy during a slow dance at school and he laughed. Again, young stupid me considered this a good sign - I actually wrote in my journal that I thought we were going on a date shortly after that, though I'm pretty sure he never spoke directly to me again. And for the last five years, he has not accepted my friend request on Facebook.

But here is the thing that makes me doubt my recollections: I finally found someone to tell him hello for me and mention I was sorry; my theory, based on my finally realizing that the 30-years-ago confession was more a humiliation than a relief, was that he thought I was a horrible person unworthy of being his friend, even in cyberspace, but if he knew I was apologetic we could move on - yet he told that person he has no idea who I am. No idea. Now, I know this thing actually happened because a) a friend was involved and can back me up plus b) I wrote about it in my journal and by God, that thing is full of unsettling true things. It stuns me that someone, like my 6th grade acquaintance, will have a completely opposite memory of a situation and I don't understand why.

However, again as a result of good counseling sessions, I am letting it all go. We with opposing memories will just have to forever agree to disagree. 

Maybe. (Is this a male/female thing? An age issue?)

Probably not. (Why does this matter so much to me??)

I guess I need a few more counseling sessions.

3 comments:

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Oh, those fickle memories! Even with my much-closer-in-age siblings, we remember different things and reacted to them differently. My younger brother swears I ditched him to be punished alone for clogging the toilet with paper towels (I don't remember helping him at all). Some of my classmates loved our biology teacher who I remember only as a lecherous older man (who also one day digressed with a story of how to cook magic mushrooms); they remember him as a favorite teacher. Strange, indeed.
The memory that scrapes my conscience raw, and much too often, from long-ago 5th grade will probably have to stay there because I would prefer to think that the other parties involved have no memory of it at all.

KL Crab said...

We seem to retain those sharp memories that affected us viscerally at the time they occurred. but we only ever see it from 'our side' of the experience. I remember quite clearly being chastised for trying to steal a peanut from the bin of my grandfather's grocery store. I thought it was unfair that I could NOT have a peanut when I wanted one. I am not sure how old I was but I would guess 5 or 6. This odd memory of the humiliation and unfairness stuck with me into adulthood. Flash forward 30 years.... I am fortunate enough to be living in the same town with my grandfather and he and I are getting to know each other as adults (It was wonderful) but something prompts me to ask him why this event had occurred. He laughs and said- you kept putting empty shells back in the bin after I asked you not too.

So now when a memory torments me for some reason I step back and wonder where the empty shells are. I so enjoy your writing and I'm looking forward to reading more this year!

Janet said...

I have very few memories of my grade school days so for me it's completely a memory thing!

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