Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Thanks for the (Altered) Memories...



Register columnist

The worst part about having the memory of a goldfish is that people can mess with you.

Don't want to take out the trash? Say I didn't ask you to. Want to cut me off in the middle of a boring story? Tell me that you've already heard it. Go ahead and be an hour late to our lunch date. Just claim I told you the wrong time. I'll never know the difference.

Being of unsound mind, I have no idea whether my friends have used my low brain RAM against me. But I can promise you that my family has taken full advantage of it. Mom, in particular, has made a sport of altering past events to directly contradict my memories of them.

I have (vague) recollections of missing my best friend's seventh birthday party so that I could be entered in a beauty pageant. I (barely) remember being very confused the entire time I was at the pageant. And I (think I) recall being startled when the winning trophy was thrust into my hands. Over the years, however, this story has been retold as a glimmering example of how Mom successfully pumped up my withering self-esteem. Each telling omits the missed birthday party – and, in truth, I'm no longer sure what happened.

That's fine for minor childhood traumas, but when the Memory Game creeps into my adult life, to events that are only a few months old, the results can be infuriating. I was about 15 minutes into an argument with Mom about whether or not she told me my nipples were too big to effectively nurse my son (she had), when I realized it didn't matter that I was right. I wasn't going to win.

A simple "I never said that" is all it takes to deflate my argument. How can I – a woman with a head the size of a grapefruit and memory that won't outlast a stick of gum – possibly produce any proof to the contrary?

Sis has the same memory issues, and I've often imagined us flubbing through our grandkids' questions about our lives. I figure we'll have to usurp other people's histories or make stuff up altogether: "My father, your great-grandfather, was originally supposed to give the Gettysburg Address, but he got a lozenge stuck in his throat and couldn't talk. And would you believe he didn't get that lozenge out until he made the closing arguments at Nuremberg? Incredible man, he was. Invented wheat."

But maybe there is hope for Sis and I – and a way to put to rest future arguments with Mom. When Zev was born, Hubby's dad bought us a video camera. The idea was to record every precious second of our little boy's life for posterity. But the camera doesn't just pick up Zev's babbles and coos. It picks up all of our nonsense, too.

When Zev turned a year old last week, I asked his family and friends to gather around the table and help blow out his birthday candle. I requested that everyone make a wish on Zev's behalf and help him welcome in his second year of life. Then, right before everyone was about to help blow, Mom chimed in, "Don't spit on the cake." About half the people standing there were so dumbfounded, they just kept the air right there in their inflated cheeks.

It's the kind of bizarre buzz-kill statement that Mom would normally deny having said. Except this time, it was caught on tape.

A few days after the party, we watched the footage Sis had shot, and sure enough, there was Mom's voice warning guests against any insidious saliva spraying. Mom said, "I said that?" But this time, she couldn't deny it. There it was. On video.

There is no way anybody can possibly deny having said something when it's on tape. I mean, you'd have to be some kind of spin-meister Donald Rumsfeld to refute … wait, rewind that part. Sis, did you really say, "Eew," when you panned the camera over to one of our guests? That's kinda mean.

"No. I said, 'It's you!'"

"Let's replay that."

"Ew," Sis says on tape.

"You said, 'Ew.'"

"No, I didn't," Sis says, the pitch of her voice growing higher to meet my rising eyebrow. Never mind that it was as clear as a bell. Never mind that everyone else in the room heard it, too. Sis managed to undercut the one weapon I had in the war against the Memory Mafia. And she used the oldest trick in the book.

"I never said that."

1 comment:

  1. The one thing that infuriates me is that I don't have a very good long term memory. I do remember lots of important events,but there are lots I don't recall. If my mother brings something up from years ago and I truly do not remember. I hear "Oh, you remember that." Or if my recollection is different than hers, I must be the one that is wrong. I suppose I just made up all the events of my childhood. Put a more fun spin on them, so they didn't seem dull. Who does that?