Last weekend Heather and her brother, Kyle, spent one last night at the house they grew up in ahead of their parents moving out for good this week. It was an emotional experience for them, and at one point Kyle suggested that everyone walk from room to room so they could share their memories.
For the next half hour or so there were lots of great stories told, but what intrigued me was how many times everyone’s recollections differed. At one point Kyle brought up a minor complaint about something that happened in his childhood, and his mother, Linda, shook her head and said, “That never happened.” I found that interesting because I’ve had the same exact experience with my mom – things I remembered with absolute certainty she said never could have happened.
Memory is a weird thing, and one of the weirdest things about it is how subjective and individual it is. One moment can be so important to someone that they remember it forever, while another person might forget the same moment by the end of the day. Or, if both people remember the same moment, they might remember it totally differently. How can you ever know for sure what really happened?
Thankfully, none of the things my mom and I remembered differently were huge deals worth fighting over (nor were the ones between Kyle and Linda). That’s not always the case, though. I’ve seen episodes of “Intervention” where one of the biggest things the addict was troubled by was their parents’ inability (or refusal) to remember a pivotal moment from their childhood such as abuse or trauma the same way they do.
It’s a little unsettling to think about. In my mind I see Heather, Annie, James and me as one family going through life together, but the reality is that we’re four individuals interpreting shared experiences in our own way. Will Annie or James and I have serious disagreements over how we remember our life together? I hope not, but it’s possible.
Of course, it’s also possible that in this digital age memory won’t be so individual. Twenty years from now, instead of arguing over what happened in the past, we might be able to call up the record of our memories on our iPhone 17 and settle things right then and there.
Regardless of what the future holds, I just hope the games memory play don’t do anything to drive Annie, James, and me apart – not even a little bit.