Every Narrative is Now

(This is a cross-post from my process journal, which is password protected.)

I was talking to my doctor about this new project – examining memory. My insistence on the idea that our present determines our past and not vice versa. How if our memories are reconstructed every time we call them up, we are necessarily unaware of their morphing. As would be anyone hearing us describe a memory and remembering the last time we told them the story.

She nodded.

It’s a frightening thought. Considering my mother’s accusations that I have made it all up. All the ugly parts. Considering that the truth is that our lives are a series of disjointed facts connected by our imagination.

Sometimes it comes down to what did I know when? How old were you when you became convinced you could read someone’s intention, but understood you could never read their mind? How old are you when you understand subtext? Accurately? When you know a threat is a threat when you are told it was not? When your imagination connects the facts with intention.

Maybe this is where “the story of what happened to you” is a true reflection of who you are. And it is one of those reflections between bathroom mirrors that goes on and on and on. But look closely and you’ll see small variations in shapes and hues.

My doctor tells me that I need to remember that, regardless of the uncertainty of details, the emotions are real. Fear is real.

I remember a different doctor years ago telling me to trust my fears. They’ve been tested. That gut instinct to leave the room. Leave the house. Go out and play. Say, “No, thank you” to the open-ended promise for favors in return. Taking the beating is an act of rebellion in itself: fear being complicit in the erasure of your own will.

Maybe I can tell these stories now because I can see I can’t stop myself from telling you her side of it: When I was small – too small to remember myself – she said I hallucinated crocodiles in my bedroom. In the middle of the day, she said. Hysterical. Which, etymologically speaking, is an odd choice of words to describe a toddler. Proof, she said, that I never had a grasp on reality.

There was a crocodile in Disney’s Peter Pan. Tick tock. Tick tock. I had a record player. But that would have been years later.

Time bends back on itself in memory. If that were possible. Linear narratives are illusions. Every narrative is now.

I think this is why I don’t want to write a typical memoir. Set a version on paper. Tomorrow, it may not be true. A new fact will surface that skews the trajectory from fact to fact. The cause and effect won’t line up. Maybe every memory is a rationalization of what the body experiences. Feels.

Emotions are not thoughts. Emotions come first.

Memories are true in essence. It seems narrative is just another layer of fiction.

“Anger, disgust, surprise, happiness, fear, and sadness are often classified as basic emotions”.

What about shame?

Shame resides in the body.

This is a fact. No matter what I remember. Piece together. Narrate.

And now I’ve begun.