How Do You Remember It?
One of my favorite mystery writers is Jeffrey Deaver, best known for his Lincoln Rhyme series. Rhyme is a quadriplegic forensic investigator with NYPD. Since Rhyme is a quad and cannot physically do the work himself, he verbally coaches mere mortal investigators through the evidence collection processes. Then, as the reader, you get to listen in, get all the forensic education, but it never feels so third person.
One thing I enjoy about the Lincoln Rhyme character is his insatiable quench for forensic evidence. He cares not for the eyewitness reports because he knows eyewitnesses are invariably unreliable. Memories fade, are altered and don’t hold up in court like cold, hard evidence. Rhyme disregards the witness accounts like an Oscar winner would brush off a middle school musical. Completely irrelevant to the true professionalism on which he relies.
Rhyme isn’t an oddball, either. Ask any investigator, police officer, etc. and they’ll tell you the same thing-witnesses aren’t reliable. If 10 people witness an accident, cops are likely to get 10 different stories. Everyone’s perspective is altered by their history, personal experiences, their angle, mindset at the time of the occurrence-just everything. Again, witnesses aren’t reliable because memories aren’t reliable.
Yet, we all probably believe our memories serve us correctly, right? Duh! It’s not like we purposefully re-write history in our own minds! Well, maybe some of us do-but that’s certainly not the norm.
While on this Tour de la West Coast, I stopped into Boise, Idaho for a few days to hang out with my BFF from college, Hilary. If you’ve read “After This…”, you’ll likely remember Hilary as the person who helped babystep me back into real life my freshman year back in college. She helped with my classes, assisted me in getting around campus at the beginning of the semester and, most importantly, was my friend when I thought there was nothing likeable about me.
While we lounged around Hilary’s Boise living room, listening to Kasey Chambers and splitting some merlot, we took a stroll down memory lane. We’re going back over a dozen years to our first meeting in Ms. Robison’s English 120 class, then through the next three years we were in college together.
When we discussed the days that were, all the while, I kept feeling the need to apologize to Hilary. The Marcus I remember from that time was a self centered, inebriated jerk who, out of internal pain, took out his frustrations on the people around him. I was mean, I was cutting, I was insulting, I was just a class A A-hole. When Hilary and I talked about hanging out in my dorm room, she remembers watching 80s movies and eating pizza and chit chatting-just two regular college pals. I don’t remember this. The movies? The Pizza? Yes. Being friendly and sweet and compassionate? Not so much. I more remember sitting on the floor, out of my mmind on cheap Scorsby with some wretched internal monologue going on about how much life sucked. A dozen years ago-SOMETHING happened to solidify a friendship between Hilary and I. We just happen to remember the details differently.
When we were skipping down memory lane (and after my eighth apology in three minutes), Hilary posed a question I’d not really thought about: “Marc, do you really think I’d have hung out with you if you were as big of an asshole as you remember being?”
To which I have to answer…no. No, I don’t.
Hilary had enough self respect to not allow herself to be verbally abused by some inebriated waste. This lends loads of credit to the notion that, like Lincoln Rhyme says, memories are deceiving. And mine are, too.
Giving myself some grace is tough. It’s probably one of the toughest things I wrestle with on a day to day basis. Yet, there is truth in the world. One of the truest things I know is that what we remember may not actually be what went down. Eyewitness reports, autobiographies, courtroom testimonies-they’re all only as good as the memory is. And the human memory has the tendency to have loads of different things help paint the picture. I know this. I do. I know my memory, like everyone’s, isn’t the gospel truth. Hell, the gospel truth isn’t even the gospel truth…but I digress. And that’s why hanging out with Hil over the weekend was so good for me.
My memories of details are unreliable. One thing is certain, though: Hilary is still my friend. And she wouldn’t be if I were truly the guy I remember.
You can draw whatever conclusions you like from this little tale. For me, I’m just glad something I’ve intellectually known as truth was put into a context I can emotionally understand. And hopefully-I’m a better person for it. Thanks, Hil.