Lesson 1- Forgetting and Mis-Remembering Ain’t the Same Thing

When I was 12 years old a girl named Carla Ricketts was waved into the crosswalk by a woman in a minivan who, upon seeing Carla crossing the street, gunned her car and struck Carla, sending her body into the air before it landed with an awful wet thwack. That’s when the lady put her car in reverse and ran over Carla a second time. It happened right in front of me. We were walking to McDonald’s. It was a half day at Blessed Sacrament, the Catholic school I attended. Carla kept trying to walk with my friend and me and I kept telling her to walk ahead. My shame around that combined with the subsequent trauma of watching her be murdered by a woman in her car caused me to forget not only that Carla Ricketts died in front of me…I forgot she lived. I deleted the whole girl. Astonishing considering the fact that I was a witness. I stared at her mangled body and the blood running down the sewage drain. I forgot it all. On purpose. I even went to the funeral and still deleted the file. I kept it buried for 17 years until it ruptured when my student was hit by a car in front of me years later, triggering that memory. Until that day, I completely forgot about Carla’s death. I erased her so completely I forgot about her life. That was me forgetting. Okay. Now, after the memory came back to me all those years later, the first time I told the story of what happened to Carla, I described myself as caterwauling on the sidewalk with my friend Nicolette Dixon who was screaming and crying, and I was too. I was screaming and crying. Of course, I was. But…

When my mother heard me tell it that way, she corrected the record. It would not be the first time she did so with other stories and the ways I (re)member them.

My mother said when she picked me up from the police station the officers told her I was completely stoic; no tears, no emotion at all. I wasn’t screaming the way Nicolette was. I had misremembered myself in the story. I rewrote myself, see? Without even knowing I did so, I rewrote myself and in this new version I was in possession of neurotypical responses to tragedy. Not the broken girl manufactured in my stepfather’s basement. The girl in my first (re)memory was far more intact than the girl I actually was. When my mother gave me that data, I could locate her in my memory. She was there. Buried under the rubble. Silenced. Not forgotten.  Misremembered.

Now, to the point…I am a writer and the bearer of this story. I get to choose whether I dig myself up as I was, the uncrying stoic girl stuck on that curb or leave that version entombed, electing instead to be willful about misremembrance and repurposing my little girl self in the writing in a way that gives her what she didn’t have then. It’s tricky. But it all belongs to me. So too do your memories belong to you. The errors and all. It’s not hard to understand why I (re)member myself as more whole, more intact than I actually was. Part of my deepest sadness as a child was the secret knowledge of what I was becoming. I knew what emotional resources were dying in me in my stepfather’s house enduring what can only be called torture. It pained me that I wasn’t “normal” like everyone else so somewhere along the line (the line being the passage of time, maturity and healing work) in my memories, I had given the little girl that I was, all of the resources she had been robbed of. She could cry. She could cuss you out. She could scream and accuse. Those are revisions though. The truth is, I couldn’t do any of those things. My memory is an inaccurate record in one sense, but it is the most truthful reckoning in another. Sheesh. I really hope that makes sense to all of you. Memory can be forgotten, manipulated, misinterpreted, and misremembered. Our psyches are designed to protect us. Many times, that is what’s at play when we have either forgotten or misremembered something. Screw it, let’s do some writing.