Memory Vs. Facts

As one who writes memoir and personal essay, memory is at the front of my creative needs. When I’ve taught the memoir in my composition courses, I tell my students that memoir is true insofar as memory permits. And this is because memory is fragmented. When we remember, we do so it bits and pieces, in starts and stalls. We might not remember the entire scene as a movie developing from start to finish. We remember enough of that scene to piece it together and to know what happened.

I find myself now, marveling at how deceiving memory can be. I’m revising a short story I wrote, hoping to send it out to a few places. It’s the story of a mother who was exiled to the States after witnessing a murder during the drug war days of Medellin and who is now trying to go back and find the kids she left behind.

I thought I had the dates all down. The last time I went to Colombia was in 1992… I think. I was always convinced it was 1992, but now that I’m dissecting dates, I wonder if it was ’91 or ’93. I (think I) was thirteen. Anyway, the last time I went to Colombia I was in Manizales and kissed a boy who had been my pen pal since ’89 when I met him at my aunt’s music school – La Rafael Pombo. It wasn’t my first kiss, but it was my first kiss with a boy I liked (my first was on a dare). After that trip, it was no longer safe to go. Family came and visited, but we never went back. I’d hear my father talking about car bombs, about an explosion in Unicentro, about my cousin getting hurt (but thankfully not seriously). In my mind, the worst of the worst with the drug wars happened in the mid-to-late 1990’s.

Now that I’m writing my story, I had these dates preset by my memory. I had to check my facts, though, and would you imagine my surprise when I realized the heydays of the Medellin Cartel were in the late 80’s and Pablo Escobar, that much-hated and much-revered drug lord (depending on whom you asked) was killed in December of 1993? Right around that last time I was in Colombia. Such is memory, I guess.

Now on to changing some specifics in my story to match the facts.

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2 thoughts on “Memory Vs. Facts

  1. My new book is a memoir and it would have been impossible to write without having taken detailed notes for even 8 months of the 27 months I describe in it. It is amazing what we forget and what we think we know. You have to fact-check your own life if you want it to be accurate.

    • So true! There’s a common misconception that our memory is infallible, that because we remember something happening one way, it absolutely happened that way. For me, it’s been “fun” crossing memories with my mom. Things I remember, she doesn’t, and vice versa. She’s come to the conclusion she blocked out unpleasant memories while I focused on them. And I know they happened because I wrote about them in my journals! Unfortunately, though, much of what I’m writing about in my memoir isn’t documented. I can sometimes cross reference events with my mom, and sometimes with my dad’s family. But the rest is memory. That’s been my struggle.

      Also, I love your blog! I’m very interested in reading your new book. I’m going to have to check it out. 🙂

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