Yesterday my highschool roommate said he had seen me slap my girlfriend, once. I believe him, but I don't remember it, and there was a cold constriction behind my breastbone all day. This is well over thirty years ago; any connection I have to that overwrought teenager is tenuous, but it distressed me, and it still distresses me.
That I'd done it -- if I could remember it -- would be forgiveable. I was fifteen and terribly unstable. But that I could do it and forget it, that's what frightened me. What else have I forgotten? Just how much editing has gone into making this persona?
I had to ask Martha, last night. "Have I ever hit you?"
Her blank perplexity was reassuring. I told her why I was asking. "No, you've never hit me," she said.
So that was a relief, anyway.
I still don't remember it. But a couple hours after he had said that, a picture formed in my mind: a dark hallway, and she standing a couple yards away, on her high-colored face an expression of mixed anger and triumph. The expression said, "I knew that was what you really were." There's no movement to this picture. Nothing leads up to it or away from it.
My memory works like that. Disconnected pictures, charged with emotion. There are no stories in my memory, no narratives. I'm always astonished by people with narrative memories. Martha has the whole history of our lives in stories. Start her anywhere, with any memory, and she catches the thread of the story, and soon the narrative unfolds, complete with characters and motives. She even remembers other peoples' stories.
But my memory is little vivid pictures framed by a huge darkness. I remember things I've seen and things I've felt. There's M, having just stepped back from me, the stairs tumbling away to my right, an unlighted doorway behind her; and the picture is suffused with dread. But that's all there is.