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Memory: Undoubtedly neither of us are right?

About 17 years ago my husband and I visited with an elderly couple who lived an hour's drive north of here. They were a genteel and charming couple who had been married for a long time. The wife served us tea. The husband told us stories. Then he told us a story from which his wife's memory differed. She corrected him. He disagreed with her. She disagreed with him. They went back and forth. My husband and I sat with our teacups, observing this dispute between two people we had just met. Then the wife turned to us, smiled, and said, "Undoubtedly we are both right."

We have remembered that couple and the wife's statement ever since and have used it on occasion when we have disagreed on the facts of a story in the same genial manner that the woman used when she said it 17 years ago. She said it in a way that it was easy to believe that she had said it many times before. I loved how she brought that disagreement to a close.

Ten years ago and also within the last week I have encountered the fact that my memory and my daughter's memory of things past differ. I have read that after divorces the two spouses often tell two different accounts of what happened in their marriage as though they each experienced something entirely different from what the other experienced while living under the same roof. I am reminded of that.

I have been tempted to defend myself point by point and to speculate on why we remember things so differently. In some cases I have no memory at all of something that she is saying that I did. Nor can I believe that I could be capable of being so mean and then be able to forget it. Her description of events is so negative that I would not want to meet the person she is describing because I would dislike that person so much. The person in these descriptions bears my name but it isn't the me that I know so well. Then I read that she says that her stepmother has said, "It wasn't me," in reference to a separate account that my daughter gave of something that happened between the two of them.

As soon as I typed, "It isn't the me that I know," I remembered what my daughter wrote about her stepmother and it gave me a different perspective on my daughter's perceptions of events and the people involved. Typing those words "it isn't me" and then leaving them here despite my daughter's previous reaction to having heard something similar from her stepmother is because it occurred to me that my daughter would interpret them specifically as me disclaiming responsibility for having done something bad. I am not saying disclaiming responsibility. I am saying that I did not do something bad period.

I can't speak for my daughter's stepmother. Speaking for myself, I know that when I say, "it wasn't the me that I know," I mean that I know that I am not a cruel horrible person and that the account that my daughter gives of events is not consistent with who I am and how I am and what I am.

Yet my daughter remembers things as though I was a cruel horrible person. She remembers a mother who harangued her to dive off a diving board and she was not a good swimmer. I have no memory of this. I am not a good swimmer and have never been good at diving off a diving board. I hate to get my face underwater. I can't swim underwater. I have always been afraid of water. I am empathetic with anyone's, including my daughter's, fear of water.

I recall that my daughter is not a good swimmer. I have no memory of seeing her on a diving board nor do I have a memory of haranguing her to dive off a diving board. That kind of behavior is foreign to my knowledge of myself and of anything that I would do. If she remembers something related to a diving board and me and swimming and haranguing, I have to say, "it wasn't me," because to my knowledge of myself, I wouldn't do something like what she is describing. If I was there and said something, I can't imagine that it was in the spirit of haranguing or of demeaning her because she wouldn't jump off. Can she ever remember ME freely jumping off a diving board with no anxiety or of ME swimming well? If so, that swimmer or diver absolutely could not have been me in that memory because I am not capable of jumping off a diving board without coaxing and instruction and without anxiety. I would not treat my daughter or anyone else as though I expected them to be able to jump freely off a diving board with no anxiety.

The only memory I have of diving boards in my daughter's childhood is that there was one at the public swimming pool and at the lake where I took her in the summer. I can't recall her even approaching one to stand on.

I began to wish I knew more about her diving board memory because I might understand why she remembers it that way but I realize that knowing more about the diving board memory would not tell me why she remembers it the way that she does.

When it comes to these memories that my daughter and I have, there is no way I can say, "Undoubtedly we are both right."

I do have many wonderful and positive memories of my daughter, myself, and my ex from when she was a kid and growing up. I wish that she had them too. I hope that she has at least some. It's sad not to be able to remember good things about people when they did happen.



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