Have you ever had a memory that you’re not sure is a memory?
There’s a certain building I pass sometimes on Hawthorne Avenue. Every time I go by the building I think about a memory fragment that involves a woman I knew in high school. I have a memory that one night I dropped her off at that building. She was living there, which of course was why I dropped her off. The odd thing is that I have no memory of why we were together – a dinner? A show? A meeting? A movie? Or why she was living in Charlotte.
I am fairly sure it was after we’d graduated from college, but it could have been a summer break. I don’t remember where I was living either – I didn’t actually move to Charlotte until much later. But I was often in Charlotte over the years to go to the movies, to go to dinner with friends, to see concerts at venues large and small.
Sometimes I think it must not have been the woman I think it was – that I’ve confused her with another friend, who would have been more likely to live in that area during the period of time I think it was.
Sometimes I think I dreamed it since I can’t put the rest of the evening into any sort of context.
You’d think if I had a clear memory of dropping her off, then I would remember where I went after that. Home? To another friend’s place to crash? I have no clue.
Memory is a peculiar part of our psyches. Scenes seem to ebb and flow and don’t follow any particular pattern.
I worry about memories fading and simply disappearing because my mother had dementia and a great deal of memory loss associated with that disease/condition.
Even without dementia or other diseases, I also know from experience that things you absolutely remember are often wrong. I discovered by reading through my old journals that an incident from my wayward youth happened not my senior year in college but my junior year. As a newspaper reporter, I double checked facts often because mistakes were easy to make and not easy to rectify.
Lillian Hellman said it this way: “Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter ‘repented,’ changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.”
Human memory may be more jumbled than transparent but many times we can use our memories of the past to inform our present.