The False Memories

brain-memory

And there she was.

My gorgeous ex-wife, on the floor with our son, doting over something he’d put together.

“Hey mom! Look at this!”

So excited, my little five-year-old.

He was smiling. She was smiling. I was smiling.

It felt good—having us all together.

Later, there was dinner. The usual chit-chat. Just like it used to be.

At night, with our son sound asleep, we curled up next to one another on the couch. It didn’t feel foreign. Just the same as it ever was. Like a time warp.

Not like when it was bad. Like when it was good.

The sitting became holding.

The holding became touching.

The touching became kissing.

The kissing became sex.

And I liked it.

Whoa.

We Don’t Remember Everything

You see it when investigators question eye witnesses.

People remember men of different heights. Wearing different color shirts. Driving different types of cars.

In some instances, it’s because we smoked too much pot in college. I always joke that that’s my problem when I exhibit forgetfulness.

But this isn’t about remembering someone’s birthday, or to run that errand, or that you have a test at school tomorrow, or whatever.

It’s about memories you feel certain about. Sometimes they’re wrong.

Researchers proved this by interviewing people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory—you know—the kind of people who remember what they had for breakfast and what song was playing on their drive to work on some arbitrary date 15 years ago.

Even THEY get it wrong—human beings with the most-gifted and powerful memories on Earth. Things they are really sure about, too.

There was a fascinating piece in The Atlantic last month about it. One of the memory researchers quoted in the article said that all memories are colored by bits of life experience.

“When people recall, they are reconstructing,” the professor said. “It doesn’t mean it’s totally false. It means that they’re telling a story about themselves and they’re integrating things they really do remember in detail, with things that are generally true.”

I was fascinated.

It relates to the stories I tell on this blog.

It relates to my memories from my marriage. Were the good times as good as I remember? Were the bad times as bad?

It relates to my ex-wife’s memories about our marriage.

As writers, I think we owe it to anyone reading to be as honest as possible. When telling old stories, we risk getting things wrong. I am committed to getting it as close to the truth as my brain is capable of delivering.

But I am, inevitably, fallible and mistake-prone.

That affects my work here. That affects my human relationships.

And it affects my subconscious.

What Dreams May Come

I don’t remember dreams very much anymore. Most of my life, I’ve woke up in the middle of the night or in the morning on the heels of some pretty vivid dreams.

I remember the frightening ones.

I remember the sad ones.

I remember the sex-laden ones.

They actually have an effect on me. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically.

My dream about my ex-wife in the early morning hours today was shocking to me.

It was the first time I’d had any sort of dream like that about her.

I wish I knew what it meant—that it didn’t feel bizarre. That I liked that she liked me. That it all felt, just, happy.

But I don’t get too caught up in the specifics. Especially when it comes to dreams.

It’s probably weirder that I hadn’t dreamed about my ex-wife up to this point than it is weird that I did this morning.

Dream interpretation is almost never literal.

My subconscious, like my totally conscious self, probably just likes human connection.

It’s not that fun sitting around by myself all the time when my son isn’t home.

It’s not that fun never having sex with anyone. Ever.

It’s not that fun cooking for one and eating alone.

I woke up.

No one was in bed with me. My room was still disheveled. My life still kind of sucked.

I opened the blinds.

No birds chirping.

Just a bunch of snow. A bunch of gray. A bunch of cold.

The winter of my discontent.

Perhaps Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day said it best: “I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold. It’s gonna be gray. And it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.”

But then my son ran in.

And I’m apparently “the best dad in all of the Americas,” as he’s learned that Central and South America are places, too.

I love you, son.

I got a blog-comment notification on my phone. Someone said something ridiculously kind about my writing.

That always makes me feel good.

Thank you.

My mother is visiting today until the weekend. To see her grandson. To help make her sad son’s holiday just a little brighter.

Thank you, mom.

I read a blog post. A gorgeous, smart, hilarious young woman watches and listens as her friends are always being chased by men, but she feels like the perpetual bridesmaid.

It’s not just me.

It’s never just me. And it is always us. All of us.

Battling sadness, anger, fear, stress, shame. Together.

I’m not alone.

You’re not alone.

Let’s never forget it.

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38 thoughts on “The False Memories

  1. The brain has always fascinated me. I took a class on attention and memory and the most basic thing I got out of it is that our memories are awful. But that’s a good thing.

    Sometimes, it’s good to not remember certain things in perfect detail. A defense mechanism.

    I’m glad your mum is home to see you and the kiddo. Even if you’re alone, you’re still awesome. Loneliness can’t take that away.

    Hugs for Matt!

    Like

  2. On that dream thing. For a while, when these shit sandwich wheels started turning, I would go to sleep at night knowing that I would not think about things. I always looked forward to sleeping because of that.

    Lately, almost every F&$@#$! night, I dream about that “sandwich.” One of the great things about dreams is you really feel things emotionally and mentally at times. Sometimes that’s awesome (sex or tropical beach dreams) and other times it just sucks. Going to bed with the “this sucks” feeling, sleeping with it and waking up to it.

    BUT I swear I will MAKE this Christmas a good one and enjoy myself despite the sandwich.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      All along, I’ve marveled at how, at least digitally, you seem to be holding up so well in what appears to be a really sad, and somewhat bizarre, marriage situation.

      I admire very much your commitment to your children and family no matter what. I admire your commitment to making the best of a challenging situation.

      Thank you for reading this stuff, being a part of it, and sharing your life as well.

      Means a lot.

      Like

      • I feel bad for using your blog as a stage to vent. I post plenty on my own but it’s all done in private, only I can see it because my blog is not hidden from the person I am posting about. Being able to post in your comment section helps me. It’s a way to get things off my chest without having to worry about who might see it but I do at least want someone to see it who might be able to relate.

        Thank you for letting me do that and thank you double for sharing your life with us.

        Like

  3. Tara says:

    First, this is by far one of my fave movie lines: Perhaps Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day said it best: “I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold. It’s gonna be gray. And it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.”

    And second, Had a rough (ex) day myself and needed this post as a reminder… Not alone… So thank you.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Yeah. Never alone.

      Like a scattered army.

      Nameless and faceless. Like Anonymous–the hacker group.

      Only instead of hacking, we feel sad and drink more than we should.

      Woot.

      Seriously, thank you for reading and saying hi. I’m sorry you’ve had a rough day. Truly.

      Like

  4. mewhoami says:

    Beautifully written. You’re right that we are never alone. We are all in this life together.

    I try not to analyze my dreams too much either, but they sure can have a lasting impact. Some dreams make me upset and the anger of what happened, stays with me throughout the entire day. It’s ridiculous and frustrating. Others make me happy and they do the same and that I like. :) Its strange how dreams can often affect us in the same way that reality does.

    I’m glad to hear that your mom is going to be there. I hope you guys have a wonderful time together!

    Like

  5. Being 'Her' says:

    Well you and I can feel alone together. I’m here for you. I’d like to chat more often. We have a lot in common I think, and I’ve only begun to read. I’m glad your mom is visiting. I’m glad your son distracts you right when he should. I’m glad you have blogs you love to read. Keep busy. Keep your mind busy. As far as the dreams, they at times suck and sting as our eyes are adjusting to the early morning light. I have dreams of my husband once being loving, caring and kind to me. Seems so long ago… like that too might have been a dream. Sigh.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Forgive my insensitivity.

      I whine a lot. Being alone as a single adult is NOT as painful as being alone in a marriage.

      The loneliness is more profound now. But the pain is less.

      And I’m really sorry you’re going through that. Thank you for being encouraging and lifting others up even when you’re hurting so much.

      That’s a such a nice human trait.

      Also, thank you for reblogging my post last week. A lot of people read that because of you. And that means a lot to me.

      Here’s to tomorrow being better than today. Always.

      Like

  6. suzjones says:

    Matt, I loved your gratitude list at the end. Your comment on my blog about gratitude equalling happiness is so very true. :) :)
    Have I mentioned before that along with all of the other speed bumps in my life, I am also divorced. I walked away from that marriage due to the emotional and mental abuse. But you know what? I loved that man despite all this and it broke my heart to do it. When my divorce became final I cried. I cried because I felt that the previous 7 years of my life had amounted to nothing. It took me almost 18 years to forgive that man but I’m so glad that I did.
    Keep going with your gratitude list. Keep looking for the blessings in every day.
    Blessings to you :)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you so much. :)

      We must never forget to be grateful.

      It’s paramount. Life satisfaction starts with that first step. Recognizing our blessings and feeling legit gratitude for having them.

      Thank you for saying hi!

      Like

  7. jadedwildcat says:

    Once again, it appears you’ve posted about something that really applys to me and what I’ve been going through – and not just because I also happened to blog tearfully today about dreams I had this morning about him.
    I’ve had people tell me that my blog is so raw, so open and that I reveal things that most people would want kept secret so that they don’t seem weak or pathetic or whatever – things that I just can’t hold in no matter how hard I were to try. In saying this, I too believe that we really should try to remember and express things as accurately as they actually were – though I guess even the best of us slip up once in awhile, as you stated.
    This is actually a terrible problem for me though, because I suffer from that damned horrible thing where in the aftermath, I can only ever seem to focus on the good things (which probably weren’t even all that good at the time) instead of remembering the insanely huge amounts of shit that went on. It’s a daily process that I work through and I guess I just hope I’m getting better at it.

    As for the dreams, well, they scare me to the point where I fear going to sleep at night.
    But hopefully I’ll learn to just take them in stride and not let them eat me alive as this morning’s nearly did.

    Thanks again for posting…!

    Like

    • jadedwildcat says:

      What the… I can’t even believe I wrote ‘applys’ – that should show you how wigged out I am today. Sweet merciful crap =\

      Like

      • Matt says:

        1. You’re fine. Comment typos are par for the course.

        2. Thank you.

        3. I was actually thinking about you when I wrote this, because I remember you writing about the dream thing.

        4. Never lose that honesty. My writing is not for everyone. But the people who really like it all say the same thing: It feel real. Honest. Vulnerable.

        Sometimes I’m scared. I’m often embarrassed.

        But I want it to matter. So feeling those things is worth it.

        I hope you feel that way, too. Tell it like it is.

        Not enough people do that.

        Like

  8. DailyMusings says:

    What a powerful and poignant post. “Selective memories” are what I call the parts of my life that I choose to remember maybe a little differently than they actually happened. Sometimes remembering alot of bad can be helpful to fuel the anger and allow a person to move on. Writing a blog is a healthy way to work it out too! I am married to a man who was divorced, with a young child at the time we married.. I hope you will be able to find happiness in your future too. Keep writing.

    Like

  9. OHkls says:

    It’s not just you.

    Enjoy the time with your mom.

    Like

  10. Awesome post. :) I am totally fascinated by dreams. I enjoy when I can “tell” what a dream came from, or suspect with sort of clarity, what it means. I have a re-curring dream that haunts me every so often. That dream I dislike, of course. Memories, the same vain. Sometimes I feel so bogged down that my memories almost seem to disappear. Thank goodness for photo albums, my facebook page, etc, where I can look back and recall vividly what has happened, in particular, the last several years of my life. Look forward to reading more! XOXO-SWM

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you!

      And yes. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I wrote about realizing that I can’t remember most of my life.

      That was a somewhat unsettling realization. :)

      Like

  11. The human brain is one of my favourite topics. The reality is that our brain does not distinguish between reality, imagination and dreams. That in itself is actually very scary but a lot of evidence to this end exists in many places. In relation to dreaming, our brain uses as much energy to dream as it does when we are awake. That’s a lot and considering when we sleep it is to re-coup energy then why dream in amongst it? Why is dreaming so important that we enter a REM state every 90 minutes during our sleep phases? Why as babies, infants and children do we spend 50% of our sleeping time in the REM/dream state? One of the theories (proved again and again) that I most lean towards is the one put forward by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell. They suggest that we dream to remove emotional arousal from the day. We elegantly dream in metaphor, to remove the issue of not being able to distinguish between real and imagined or dreamed, so that we can release the emotional excess from the day and wake ready to be present the following day without causing major harm to our memories (fallible as they are and I totally agree with you memory is highly fallible and changeable when perspective changes). They also suggest that the REM state is a learning state, which would explain why we also enter the REM state every (give or take as it differs from person to person) 90 minutes during our day as well as during sleep and also why such a significant portion of our childhood is spent in this state. Think about those moments during the day when you are spacing out, need a walk, a coffee, a rest or a something… that is usually the REM state. It is a dual-purpose state to solidify learning and to let go of learning that is not needed. The human brain takes a massive amount of energy to function, in order to house it we require far more holistic care than any other being on Earth. There must be a reason that this occurred and a way to care for it.

    In relation to dreaming if we dream as suggested, in metaphor, then no one in our dreams are actually who they are. They are a ‘representation of’. For example, the boss says something to you not out of line but not pleasant; generally if you wish to keep your job you can’t say: “F you buddy you can stick your opinion”. That night you might dream of telling someone in ‘authority’ something along the same lines. You might not remember it (the brain is quite economical and will recycle metaphors as often as possible, remembering dreams can short circuit the process and then the brain has to come up with something new for next time) but will wake up without the pent up desire in your system to tell your boss just what you think of their opinion. Therefore creating longevity in your survival by providing further employment without hardship.

    In your case Matt, perhaps the dream is a longing for what was, or perhaps it is a longing for family, regardless of whether this consists of your ex or something made new with another. Perhaps it was memory linking with dream. I certainly don’t think this is impossible but when I analyse the dreams I remember I find that those I think were present were so much a part of me that they were not actually there or behind me unseen the whole time creating an illusion of being there. When it comes to my son, he is so much a part of me that there is little wonder that he features in nearly all my dreams but he also is just slightly changed so I am sure of the real, the remembered and the dreamed.

    Apologies Matt, I love this topic and your post got me excited about it. This may have little relevance to your thoughts… Enjoy having your Mom with you :)

    Like

  12. […] our self, our very being, of who we dream we are, who we were, who we are to become. I read a post today it reminded me of a passionate interest I have. I had been searching before reading this of […]

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  13. Sandy Sue says:

    My first visit here (I found you at Darla’s blog-naming interview) and I’m already a fan. It takes a real mensch to be honest about dishonesty–unintentional or otherwise.

    I’ve had my share of ex dreams that follow me out of sleep like toilet paper on my shoe. The brain purges at night–icky feelings, icky memories–and moosh them together sometimes in an amalgam of ick. Hopefully, tonight, your synapses will be kinder.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you for visiting and saying hi!

      I never want to be intentionally dishonest. What I do is simply not write all the stuff that is too mortifying to utter.

      I appreciate you being here. :)

      Like

  14. RR says:

    Good read – I can totally relate to false memories; I lost the bulk of my memory.
    I draw a lot of blanks before the age of 20 (this all happened as a result of a medical crisis). It may seem sad but I’m happy because I could have physically suffered worse; however, people took advantage and rewrote my history, created false memories and never-happened moments. People can become predatory and selfish when they see others are weak, always seeking the advantage.
    It is lovely and comforting to have an outlet, and gain the knowledge there are others who share our plight…we need to replace the false ones with real, better memories.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Yours is a story I still don’t know.

      And I really need to. I’m so sorry for that too. All part of my selfishness and piss-poor time management.

      I’ll get there.

      I get the sense you’ve been through an enormous amount. And I imagine there are so many lessons there. I’m looking forward to it.

      Thank you for contributing here and being wonderful.

      Like

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