Thursday, October 4, 2018

What happens to painful memories

I'm missing nearly five months of my life.
From April to September, 1963, there is a black hole where memories should abound.

I don''t remember my college graduation, despite having a photograph of my whole class, including me.
In spite of a yearbook containing my photograph, which I don't recall having been taken.
I don't have any memory of graduate school at the University of Illinois in Urbana. How did I get there? What did my room look like? Where did I register for classes and report to the job I'd been given to help pay my tuition? When did I go to work? With whom did I hang around?

None of it.

A few years ago, I connected with the gal who had been my roommate when we took an off-campus apartment our second year there.
She reminisced about a road trip we took in her Volkswagen Beetle.We traveled to Niagara Falls, then visited my relatives in northwestern Pennsylvania, then spent some time with my folks in New Jersey before driving back to the university, or so she said.

Never happened. At least not in my memory.

I don't know the reason for this traumatic blackout of a significant portion of my life.
It was related, I'm sure, to a bad breakup with someone I cared deeply about.
But that couldn't have been all of it.

The brain is a marvelous thing.
We learned in psychology classes that our psyches protect us from catastrophic pain by blocking out the experiences, in varying degrees, until we are inured to the possibility of damage from the events.
Carl Rogers would have called it denial, but I think it is more profound than that.
Denial implies conscious effort to refuse to accept something real.

The kind of memory loss I have is not a conscious thing.
I've spent years in a futile quest to reconstruct that time frame, reaching into every nook of my memory for one trigger that might open up the entire period and make it crystal clear.
I get to a certain point and there's nothing after it. Nowhere to go to dredge up an occurrence, a conversation, even a person who might have been involved in whatever happened that was so painful it's been locked out for 56 years.

I've been thinking a lot about this in the past week or so, ever since I listened to the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford. It bothered me that her questioners and now her detractors, including Donald Trump, are harping on her lack of detailed memory of the assault she claims she underwent at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh.

She has vague recollections of the time and the place, but she is fuzzier on how she got to the party and how she got home. She doesn't recall the time of year or even the exact date of the party.

But she does have one lifelong memory that has been burned into her mind: going up a narrow staircase to the restroom, being pushed into a bedroom and being assaulted by Kavanaugh while his friend Mark Judge watched. And what about that time is the most vivid? The laughter of the two young men and the fear, as Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming, that she might accidentally be killed.

Everything else is a blur. Details fade over time while the horrific experience remains like a movie, playing again and again in her head.

I believe Christine Blasey-Ford.

I know what it's like to have gaps in one's memory and it isn't because of some careful plot to destroy a man's career. It's because the event itself was so devastating that the brain simply shut down to all but the most egregious pieces of the experience.

Don't judge Dr. Ford on her failure to remember every detail. What she does recall is enough.

Judge Kavanaugh, according to many who knew him well when he was in high school and at Yale, attest that he was a heavy drinker, often to the point of not recalling a night's occurrences when he awoke the next day. His memories are faulty as well, if that is the case.

The difference is that he is lying about simple, easy-to-fact check things like the meanings of words in his yearbook, or the gang of young men who were alums of a certain girl in their class.

If you lie about little things, count on the big things also being lies.

I'm sorry for his family and for Dr. Ford's. But Brett Kavanaugh is at the doorstep of becoming a justice of the United States Supreme Court. He, of all people, needs to come clean about who he really is... and who he really was.


At October 4, 2018 at 8:46 AM , Blogger linda_rettstatt said...

So many are saying this is a 'he said-she said.' And to some extent that's true. However, we all have to listen to what he said and what she said and how he and she appeared as they spoke and then determine what we believe to be the truth. I believe Christine Blasey Ford. As a mental health professional, I've seen this before. I don't doubt Kavanaugh doesn't recall some things, but using a drunken blur as an excuse is not an excuse. I find it very disturbing that so many people, women especially, are so quick and cruel to condemn Dr. Ford.


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