‘I think the only reason people hold onto memories so tight is because memories are the only things that don’t change, even when everybody else does.’ – author unknown.
Wrong. So utterly, utterly incorrect and inadequate that it makes me want to yank out my fingernails as I rip it from my computer screen.
Memories do change. It’s retroactive interference: new information distorts that which we have already learnt. I don’t know much about it, or about the science behind it. I don’t know if it happens every time, or to every single memory. But I know that memory is unreliable. Memory changes, alright. I can’t stress that enough.
Each time we go back to a memory, we change it a little. Perhaps it depends on how we’ve changed, as a person, since the last time we took the memory out of its box. Or perhaps it depends on what we’re searching for, when we go to the memory. But nevertheless, each time, it is a little different, a little further removed from the original. It is only the memory of the last time we looked up that memory. We lose the moment, and then we lose the memory too.
Of course, my instinct now, as I write this, is to sift through my head. To pull out the pictures. But I’m too scared. Because it only makes it more real. What if these blurred, distorted images were the only thing that never changed? That would be awful.
Last year, I lost my auntie, my granny and my great nan. I still can’t get my head around it. Gone. Gone forever. I will never, never see them again. Unless… unless I can be brave enough to remember. But how can I? It seems wicked, wicked, to destroy my last few precious fragments of them. It seems so selfish, so indulgent. So I remember that they were here, once, not so long ago, and now they are not. But I don’t remember them, or I try not to. And it’s wrong, it’s wrong not to remember, because people are supposed to live on in your memory, aren’t they? But they don’t. It’s not them, it’s only you, trying and failing to remember.
Sometimes, however, I do it by accident – and this is when the memories are the strongest. A voice echoing in my head, a flash of colour, a song, a t-shirt, a scent on the wind. When I did not seek them out, surely they are as natural as living? As true? As uncorrupted?
Everything changes. I find myself saying that so often, I think because I don’t like change. But everything, everything, everything changes. That’s life. All change please. If I say ‘I don’t like change’, I say ‘I don’t like life’. And it’s true, I often don’t. There’s no shame in that.
The closest I can find to an original source for this quotation is this page.
And here is a Wikipedia page about the misinformation effect. Naturally, as an undergraduate student, I realise that Wikipedia cannot be trusted at all, about anything. But I know it’s an established thing that memory is unreliable (we did it in IB Psychology), and I can’t be bothered to research in properly just right now, so Wikipedia provides a fairly pleasant introduction at least.
Header: Slimbridge Wetlands Centre, Gloucestershire, February 2014.