My husband had a story that he would tell me in the first years of our relationship. The story was about this incredible house with elaborate painted turned posts on the porch. A previous owner was alleged to have been buried in the front yard in a sitting up position. He remembered this story from when he lived in Dublin, Virginia while he was in junior high school. He told me this story many times. Then one day we drove to Dublin.
On a hill overlooking the highway on a small plot of land where the splendid house with the fancy porch trim was supposed to be was an unremarkable looking Mission style house with square porch posts and no other trim at all. Nor was there any fancy paint. The house was the sort that looked as though it never had had any fancy paint. The front yard was a normal looking front yard with no marker of anyone buried there. If someone was buried there, it would be hard to imagine WHY they would have wanted to be buried there. The house was old enough to have been there long before my husband's junior high years.
My husband was astonished. It varied so remarkably from his oft told description and his memory. It had to have been the same house. Whatever it was about the house that had impressed itself in his memory wasn't there now and looked as though it never had been. Perhaps this rather unremarkable Mission style house was the fanciest thing he had seen at that point in his life when he was a young teenager? Then, as time went along and he moved away and saw other houses, he improved on that house in his memory bit by bit till it was an extravagant example of Victorian architecture. He wanted his memory to be the wonderful memory that it was. He didn't want the memory to change or be diminished by what he saw later in life. So the house got better and better.
Whatever the reason, the same kind of memory magic has happened to me and to him on several occasions. One time when he was an adult and in his early thirties he saw a plaster figure in the collection of a friend. He offered to pay $10,000 for it, an offer which was rejected. Then he didn't see the figure for about 10 years. He told me about it and how incredible it was. Finally we went to visit the collector who had decided to sell the piece. But it wasn't anywhere near as wonderful as he remembered and he was happy to be able to leave without having to buy it. It wasn't really wonderful at all.
One of my first memories is from when I was two years old and fastened by a harness and a leash to the back porch of the apartment building where my parents lived. There was a huge dog, about the size of a St. Bernard, on the stairs of the porch. If I tried to go near the porch, it barked and threatened me. It was HUGE! Years later I asked my mother about the dog. She remembered it and said that it was a very small puppy.
Another memory was when I was an adult and had gone to an auction. I am an antiques dealer. There was an antique blanket chest there, a small chest in the most gorgeous powder blue. I was outbid on the chest. I regretted not having bid higher and I kept thinking of this exquisite blanket chest which I had let get away. Then I saw it again when it was brought into an antiques show I was doing. It had grown larger, darker, and was in not as great a condition as I had remembered it. How could it possibly be the same chest? But it was.
When Roseanne, the actress, comedienne, and celebrity, spoke up years ago about the abuse she said she had suffered at the hands of her parents, I was shocked that her parents would treat her that way. Then I heard that they took a lie detector test, both of them, and passed it. The situation appalled me. How could someone lie about their parents. My daughter would never do that. Until she did. Is it too confrontational to say it that way? Lie might not be the right word.
I know she reads this and that my using that word will anger her. It might help if I say that, yes, I think she remembers something about a pool and a diving board and being afraid and feeling harangued but I am sure that the actual event differed in the details.
I don't know why Roseanne's and her parents' accounts of her childhood are so different but in the case of my daughter, perhaps she is looking for evidence of what she perceives currently as my intrinsic meanness to bolster her reasons for being estranged from me. Anything in her memory that fits at all into her picture of mean me could help paint her picture more vividly.
Memory. What a strange and perverse thing it is. It is our friend and then sometimes our enemy.
I have no memory of the swimming pool incident that she wrote about online. That was the first I heard of it. The reason it makes no sense for me to do that, outside of the fact that I am NOT intrinsically mean, is that I am a poor swimmer, can't jump off a diving board without fear, instruction, and encouragement (and I can hardly do so even then), and I can't swim well enough to save anyone who was a poor swimmer if they jumped off and things didn't go well. I wouldn't harangue anyone to jump off a diving board, least of all my daughter. I wouldn't be able to give them instruction in HOW to jump off a diving board. Jumping off of diving boards is something that I am rather clueless on.
However, is it possible that if there were a number of experienced swimmers present at some pool and my young daughter was on a diving board where I assisted others in encouraging her to jump off the board while she was given instruction? Yes, it is possible. I have NO memory of even seeing my daughter on a diving board or of her ever jumping off a diving board but it is possible that she was on one many years ago. She hasn't told me when this incident occurred or where it occurred or who else was present so I have no idea of what it is other than what it might be. It is possible that a nervous fearful child who was on a diving board for possibly the first time heard well meant words of encouragement as a harangue. Whether this is the explanation for her memory is another thing that I don't know.
Accusing me of haranging her to jump off a diving board has similarities to accusing me of haranguing her while trying to teach her calculus. I am worse at calculus than I am at swimming and diving off of diving boards.
The pattern here is one of her choosing the only explanation for a memory of me, a memory that is consistent with her chosen view of me. She cannot tolerate the idea that there is another explanation of this memory of me, a kinder gentler explanation. She prefers the one of me as being a meanie.
Me? Mean? It has only been in recent years that I can bring myself to kill a spider when I find it in the house and only if it is a great inconvenience to catch it, open the window, and put it outside. For much of my life I have struggled with being assertive, with going ahead and doing things that are important to me rather than choosing what makes someone else happy. I spend a fair amount of my time helping other people with no recompense to me of anything except an occasional thank you. I made countless choices in my life where I put both my daughter and her father first, just as many women who are mothers and wives do. Yet my daughter chooses to remember me as the mean mother who harangued her on a diving board and to vilify me because I defend myself.
If this has happened to you that an estranged relative tells people things about you that didn't happen in the way that they say that they happened, perhaps this is the explanation, that the memory fits in with how they want to see you. All the positive things that happened don't fit with the memory so they don't share those memories with people or even think about the positive memories themselves.
In the movie The Squid and The Whale, the turning point for the older son in his perception of his divorcing parents was when the therapist asks him to recall a positive memory and he remembers visiting the diorama at the Museum with his mother and how he and his mother would talk about the visit to the museum when they were home by themselves in the pleasant quiet with no one else around. When he remembers the positive, allows himself to remember the positive, he sees his parents in a different light and he changes too. But in his case, perhaps he wanted to change.
If someone doesn't want to change, then there is no hope for change. I've known a number of people in my life who don't want to change and they have convinced me of that. If someone wants to see you in a certain way, regardless of how inconsistent with the facts that way is, then that is the way that they will see you.