It was stunning because it barely resembled the truth. The rest of us involved in the event all remember it unfolding in the exact same way and yet it was nothing like our friend described it.
What made it most interesting to me is that on the day the event unfolded, he was the bad guy in the piece. By that I mean that we all feel he made some selfish and self-serving choices that day. The most fascinating part of the whole thing is that clearly his brain set to work on spinning the story that very day. His brain realized that he could not resolve himself to be the bad guy and so his brain set about the task of having the incident rewired. And believe me, when he recalled this event at our social gathering you could tell, really tell, that he believed every single word he was saying. He was truly not trying to pull the wool over our eyes. The event had become history to him, his history. But it was quite a distance from the truth.
And it made me think about perception, point of view, personalizing and spinning. I am the queen of it. I have memories that I hold dear and memories that shock and sadden me, but I wonder: Are they real? Or at least, what part of them is real? Do we all do this?
Is there any real event with one point of view?
Life is like the telephone game. We take, we add, we embellish and we pass it on. It got me to pondering specific moments in my life, old family lore and scandalous stories from days gone past. How much of it is true? Do some moments from life get spun so fast and furiously that they end up without a shred of truth in them?
I know that I like to embellish. I have always liked to embellish because I have been a storyteller since I was a kid and I always wanted to go for the “awe” factor. Ramp it up, keep it interesting, hook ‘em in. I never meant any harm. I still don’t. But I know I do it constantly and without even thinking. If someone says, “Wow, I bought three little bags of groceries and it cost me $120.00! Invariably my story will come out of my mouth as one bag, no meat or fruit––$150!!! Can’t help myself.
I have been thinking of this lately as I have a dear friend whose husband calls her out each and every time she exaggerates. He feels it is beneath her, and maybe he is right. My husband does not call me out, bless him. I say "bless him" not because I think I am correct in doing this, but because I would be really embarrassed if called out in front of people. Had an old boyfriend who made it his life’s work to call me out.
But it made me wonder if I shouldn’t start to monitor this myself? And then came the night when our friend recalled this unrecognizable event and I thought, “Yeah, I better.”
Barbara: I’ve always admitted I have a terrible memory, so I’m usually not surprised to find out I’ve remembered something wrong (or forgotten it altogether). But I am often surprised to hear stories through more than one perspective and to hear how much they differ, like in your story, Deb.
As for your friend’s skewed perspective of the past (hisstory, as it were ;-) ), I think this is at the heart of most of our skewering: in order to accept our weaknesses, we alter the truth to turn them into strengths, buffering our psyches with padded costumes.
Siblings will probably have the most opposite memories of childhood events because our immature psyches will twist events as we process them. My mother and I were just talking about that the other day. She was bemoaning the fact that grown children often talk about these catastrophic moments in their upbringing that “scar them for life”, and that their parents usually have no idea that anything profound even happened. As we compared notes about what we remembered from her perspective as a parent and my own as a child, we ended up laughing uproariously at how she’d completely forgotten things that “haunted” me (me sticking my tongue out at her when I was five and she slapping me soundly across the face––I actually remember feeling I totally deserved this), and I’d completely forgotten things that haunted her (calling me a “stupid goat” at much the same age in front of a neighbour—my mother does not and never did think I was a stupid goat … even when I was/am).