This morning I woke to a strange conversation with myself.
Verna 1, waking: I miss taking long walks. I remember when I used to walk over the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Verna 2: You walked over the Santa Cruz Mountains?
V1: Yes. I'd park at this turnout where there were big oak trees and I'd walk all the way over to the Bay. Even did it after dark one time.
V2: This doesn't sound like you. Why would you do that? Where were you going? Don't you remember the crazies who used to kill and behead women in those mountains?
V1: Well, I remember thinking about that as I walked, but I wasn't afraid. There was traffic on the road, and sometimes I'd walk right along the beach.
V2: There is no beach in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
V1: Oh. Right. But the memory is so clear.
V2: What about the part of the "memory" where your feet become wheels so you can go faster?
At this point I became fully awake, and I lay in bed thinking about how certain I was that I had done this very un-Verna-like thing. I've driven over the Santa Cruz Mountains many times and by various routes, including the back route through Big Basin, which is where I "remember" walking, sometimes parallel to Monterey Bay, which was a clear indication that this memory of something that really happened was really a memory of a dream of something that never happened: never does any route over that mountain parallel the Bay.
As I get older, I wonder a lot about my memories, and I'm less attached to being certain and much more open to curiosity about where my memories wander into some other territory. Here's an example: At times in the past, the Santa Cruz Mountains have been known as the body-dumping area of more than one serial killer, and in my knowledge of local lore, I knew that Ted Bundy was the Santa Cruz Mountain serial killer. So I Googled his name. Turns out he charmed women to death in six states, none of which was California.
V1: But I remember!
V2: No you don't.
I write fiction, mostly very short short stories, and some non-fiction pieces that could be considered memoir. I'm very aware of how each affects the other, and I wonder a lot about making a distinction between the two. It's not a good thing to put fiction into memoir and call it the truth, but it's perfectly acceptable to put real life events into a story and call it fiction. In life, we think there's something called truth, a thing that is out there, outside of ourselves, and we adhere to it. Dad used to say some pretty outrageous things and follow them up with his clincher: "It's the truth!" as if that settled that and the only reasonable thing left to do was agree with him.
I like the Buddhist idea that all of life is illusory, and the older I get, the more illusory my memories become. I could check with other people who were at the event I remember, but it might go like this:
V: Do you remember who you were with at that pool party when you stripped off your clothes and jumped into the pool?
Other Person: I wasn't there and never did.
V: Yes, I'm sure you were there. You had been drinking tequila and telling stories about your years in Mexico.
Other Person: I never lived in Mexico and I hate tequila.
V: Of course you hate tequila! It always made you take off all your clothes and jump in the pool!
I'm not the only one whose life is an illusion. I'm convinced that the farther we are from an event, the more that event becomes narrative, and the more narrative, the less "truth." It's gone, done, and even if there are people alive who remember the same thing in the same way, I'm guessing that the individual narrative has become family lore. Here's one from our family:
Do you remember that time Connie got a doll's eye stuck up her nose and we had to take her to the emergency room to have it removed?
Everyone in the family remembers this event, probably even the sister who wasn't born yet. In fact, I think that Mother and Connie and I were the only ones in the room at the time, but don't trust my memories - I'm the one who thinks I used to walk over the Santa Cruz Mountains. This story has become family lore, and that's all that matters.
Here is one thing I can be certain of: My feet never turned into wheels. But don't quote me on that.