Monday, November 19, 2007
Remembering, Misremembering, And Bad Deeds Of The Past
I woke up this morning at 5:00 a.m. for a telephonic job interview on the East Coast. It was done by 5:45, and I was drowsy but not particularly ready to go back to sleep so I was reading Straight Man by Richard Russo.
I have a very vivid memory of how I first read that book, which is that I was staying with these people in Berkeley for a weekend when I was deciding whether to go to college there or not, and it was on their bookshelves and I took it down and read it and it stuck with me.
But there inside the cover is the copyright date, 1997. Which means that it didn't happen like that, because by January 1, 1997 I was already a sophomore in college. I still think I probably read it when staying at that house, because I housesat a couple of times for them over the years, so I'm maybe not wrong by so much, but it changes my vision of the story so completely, because I remember myself as so different in 1997 than I was in 1995, that it's all a little unsettling. And casts doubt on my memory in general, which I tend to rely on heavily and enforce on others with a pretty high degree of severity.
So there we go. The past is uncertain, and our memories are just best guess reenactments. And then I found myself thinking about how once, I was staying with some people, and I started to read a book off their shelves, and not having finished with it by the time I was leaving, I just took it with me. Without asking permission, and without, I think, feeling particularly guilty about it. I must have been sixteen or seventeen at the time. It was pointed out to me sometime later that this was not good behavior in a houseguest, and now I cannot think of it without some guilt.
It's strange to look back in time at the things you did that you are now distinctly not proud of. I would say the things you did in innocence, except that innocence is hard to establish in retrospect. When I was eighteen I made a boy that I knew had a crush on me trek out into the cold to pick me up dumplings, knowing full well that I was never going to date this boy. Or knowing with an eighty percent certainty that I was never going to date this boy, because nothing is written in stone. I feel ashamed now for having done it, for having taken advantage of his chivalrous impulses; I think at the time I thought that sort of thing was allowed, but I wouldn't say it was innocent -- can a failure to consider the feelings of the other people that are staring you right in the face really be innocence?