22 February 2011

Selective Memory (originally 12 February 2011)

On several occasions over the past few years I have tried unsuccessfully to reconnect with an old high school friend who is also on Facebook.  It was only after the second or third Friend request that I thought to myself, “Really, I feel like I’ve done this before.”  I couldn’t remember for sure.  After all, she was not someone with whom I’d stayed close during college or graduate school.  Maybe I only thought I’d sent the request.  Maybe I meant to but then I forgot.  It was indeed possible.  But this time I paid closer attention.  I clicked “Send” and I waited.  I never received a response.

So it’s official.  She is ignoring me.  As this sunk in, it began to occur to me that maybe I should have some inkling why.  Certainly it was possible that she no longer spent time on Facebook.  Maybe she had become a high ranking government official for whom social networking with those of lesser security clearance was strictly forbidden.  Maybe she had gotten married and had seven babies and was too busy hand-washing eco-friendly organic nappies and pureeing vegetables from her own garden to even log onto her account.  Maybe she just thought we weren’t close enough to begin with to warrant rekindling the flame.  All of these are good reasons, though the first is clearly the most kick-ass, but I had a sense of disquiet about the rejection that made it difficult to dismiss it the way that I had, without thinking, the five-hundred-and-one other acquaintances who had also failed to beFriend me or I them.

When I mentioned it to my mother yesterday evening as we were making dinner, she was surprised I had made any attempt to be in touch at all.

“You had a fight,” she reminded me.

I remembered several contentious episodes, but the one that was most clear to me occurred in seventh or eighth grade and was over who would sing which song from The Phantom of the Opera at a recital only a handful of people would attend. We had gone on to sing together in choir all through high school, had been in musicals, had hung out in the same crowd on prom night.  Surely we had patched things up.

“You yelled at her on the phone,” my mother said, prodding.  “You called her a f*#!ing bitch.”

“No I didn’t,” I protested, not because I’m above that sort of language or such petty bickering, but because I didn’t believe I would have had the balls to actually deliver the line.

“You did.  I screamed at you to get off the phone.  You were out of control.”

“I don’t remember that,” I told my mother, turning away from the stove.

“You must,” she insisted.

“I don’t.”

“Well,” she said and then she fell quiet.  My mom did not have to say, that would explain why she doesn’t really like you, even ten years or so later.

This particular incident may have no bearing on her lack of interest in reconnecting.  She may not remember the call either, or she may remember it fondly and as a fight that she won.  I’m guessing I would not have flung out such language unless she herself was on a roll.  And I’m not nostalgic enough or vain enough to stalk her and bombard her with tweets or Facebook messages in attempts to wipe the slate clean and try to force her to like me.  That would just be silly.  I wish her the best and I’m happy to move on.

But I am bothered that I don’t remember the fight.  It is an incident that surely paints me in a less than favorable light, regardless of what she may have been saying on the other end of the line.  What other things might I have “forgotten”, things I have said and done, people I’ve offended, that do not fit neatly with my Self as I wish to envision it? 

I am not a good person.  I am not remarkably kind.  This is how I start the first chapter of Between Expectations, the book on my training in pediatrics.  But in opening this way surely I am really saying that I want to be a good person.  No matter how cranky or selfish I am on many of the pages of the memoir, I hope that my readers will see that I try to be good.  I do not leave many things out of these stories because they were difficult to write about.  I tried to be harsh, especially when it came to my own imperfections.  In the interests of full disclosure, however, it may have been my fault that so much pudding at the hospital went missing and they had to lock the doctors out of the Patient Nourishment rooms. Aside from that belated confession, the book pretty much tells it how it was.

Ultimately, though, my own imperfect recall is probably one of the reasons I felt so moved to write at all.  We forget so much of ourselves with the passing of time.  I don’t doubt that it is easier that way.  There is much about my three years of residency training in particular that it is tempting to allow to blur and then fade away.  Similarly, if I vividly recalled every conflict of my adolescence, every charged look across the classroom, every timid glance that was pointedly ignored, I would be paralyzed.  So I do not want to remember the feelings of anxiety and inadequacy that so often defined not only my teenage but also my residency years.  But neither do I want to banish them forever, merely trap them in the pages of a book and demand that they stay in their place, remaining still and silent until called upon.

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