Memory is an odd thing. There are happenings from my past that I remember with certainty, and I’d argue vehemently with anyone who suggested that my memories might be corrupted by time or experiences pre- or post-event. Or even that the memory wasn’t even my memory.
The truth is, though, that memories are subject to outside influences. Perhaps we’ve heard a story so many times that we believe we actually were part of the story. We’ve incorporated the ideas into our own psyches. I knew of this phenomenon, I just never had real evidence of it until recently.
Studly Doright and I were reminiscing the other night about an event that occurred twenty years ago when we lived in Great Bend, Kansas. Our dog had developed an infection in one of his toes and I walked him over to the veterinarian’s office just around the corner from our house. Our daughter, Ashley, accompanied me.
The vet took us back to the examination room immediately and looked at Snapper’s puffy paw. Apparently the dog had gotten some sort of seed embedded in his nail and it had become inflamed and contained a hefty amount of pus that needed to be drained. I held Snapper while the vet swabbed the dog’s paw with antiseptic and Ashley looked on, the scent of alcohol heavy in the room.
All went well until the moment the vet lanced Snapper’s paw and blood-laced pus came pouring from the infected area. I heard my daughter moan and watched her eyes roll back in her head as she began falling to the floor. I was holding the dog and grasping for my daughter’s arm to keep her from hitting her head on the floor. Meanwhile, the damned vet stood there laughing!
Somehow I managed to slow Ashley’s descent without dropping Snapper, as the vet calmly told a story about watching a big strong cowboy faint watching his horse undergo a similar procedure. Ashley still ended up on the floor, but not at full velocity. The vet bandaged the dog’s paw as poor Ashley lay unconscious. She was only out for a few seconds, but woke up thinking she’d overslept and missed a band concert scheduled for that evening.
We paid the vet (who I never took any of my pets to again) and slowly walked the block and a half home. Ashley, other than being a little disoriented, didn’t seem to have sustained any injuries, and we related our story to Studly Doright in full gory detail when we returned home.
Over the course of twenty years, Ashley and I both have told the story dozens of times. Never once has Studly Doright been at that vet’s office with us, that is, until he told the story during our little trip down memory lane. According to him, he was the one holding the dog. He was the one who kept Ashley from hitting the floor. He was the one who became exasperated by the vet’s silly nattering. No amount of arguing with him could convince him that his memory was false. Hell, I began wondering if I was the one with the faulty memory.
Then while at Ashley’s home in Illinois for Christmas I asked her to recount the story. She did, almost word for word the way I wrote it above. Studly couldn’t believe his ears; although, in the face of such strong evidence he began to realize that perhaps he had internalized the details of our story to the point he’d convinced himself that it had happened to him. He won’t quite admit that he was wrong, but he is no longer adamant that he was there.
It’s kind of fascinating, isn’t it? That the brain can trick itself into believing something. It makes me wonder what memories I have that aren’t accurate, or that aren’t even my own. Like that memory I have of Han Solo and me kissing on board the Millennium Falcon as we evaded Imperial ships on our way to Cloud City. Don’t you dare tell me that never happened!