Friday, April 4, 2014

Recovering Repressed Memories

Once in the basement of a friend's home, when I was in my middle 20s, we watched the movie Magnolia. One of the characters is a TV game show host and the father of young coke head. Toward the end of the film, and toward the end of his life, this man's wife asks him if he abused their daughter when she was young. He breaks down in tears, saying, "I don't remember," which is essentially his confession.

At that moment, it was as though a black box opened in my mind and I recalled a memory that had never before been in my conscious awareness. It was a memory from my teenage years, or a fragment of one. It was so vivid, I re-lived it in those dark moments. (Still when I call it to mind, I live it more than remember it. It is probably my most vivid memory). It was not a memory of actual abuse but seemed to be the prelude to it.

That memory surfaced over a decade ago, and to this day, I have never recalled anything more, either about the events surrounding that partial memory or about other times. But even the small event that I did recall was fairly life altering.

I have read everything available on the internet about repressed memories, and they are a hot topic of debate. I understand the fear that such memories could be planted by well-meaning but misguided professionals. People are suggestible. But that is not what happened to me. My memory surfaced on its own. I have tried to remember more, but eventually gave up on pressing myself. My mind knew when it was safe for me to remember the bit I did recall, once I was far enough removed from the situation. If there is more-- and I am pretty sure there is-- it will come in its own time, if at all.

Whenever I do probe that memory, I feel as though I am standing at the rim of a great abyss. The idea of a black hole comes to mind-- those graveyards into which massive stars fall to have their sleep when they have burned out, and into which all sorts of things may be sucked, never to emerge. It's impossible to determine what, if anything, transpires beyond the "event horizon" of black holes. And so repressed memories seem to me-- a dark horizon beyond which the truth cannot be discerned. Such black holes are thought to be the massive objects around which galaxies find their orbit. They are weighty enough in their lack to hold many other things at constant bay, in fixed relation to them.

This memory has been my well-guarded secret for a long time, revealed only to a very few trusted friends. But the older I get, the more I see that the things we all feel compelled to keep secret, and which seem to set us apart from others, are in fact some of the most universal experiences. Also, anything kept secret is given power, and this experience does not deserve that.  And so, I am putting my experience into the collective ether of the internet for those who are searching, as I have, for words to put to a part of the human experience that is starved for language, understanding and insight.