Things re­called, and not

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE - By Julie Lo­moe

I vividly re­call the night I broke up with my first se­ri­ous boyfriend. His par­ents were out of town, and we were on their dou­ble bed, “mak­ing out,” as we called it back in the late 1950s. He be­came a lit­tle too ag­gres­sive, and I wasn’t ready for that level of in­ti­macy, so I re­sisted. He backed off, and that was the night we ended our re­la­tion­ship.

I was a sopho­more at an elite pri­vate girl’s school in Mil­wau­kee, and he was a ju­nior at the cor­re­spond­ing boys’ prep school—priv­i­leged sub­ur­ban white kids, not un­like Chris­tine Blasey Ford and Brett Ka­vanaugh at that age. Teenagers from our schools so­cial­ized at school dances. Per­haps some took things fur­ther. But the two of us didn’t hang out at the coun­try club. I was artsy, prac­ti­cally the only Demo­crat in a sea of wealthy Repub­li­cans, and he was prac­ti­cally the only Jew.

He and I didn’t drink. Back then, Mil­wau­kee was the beer cap­i­tal of Amer­ica, and drink­ing beer was stereo­typ­i­cal be­hav­ior we dis­dained. And he didn’t come close to rap­ing me, so this wasn’t a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. Nev­er­the­less it has re­mained a high­light among my high school mem­o­ries, along with the night I was fox trot­ting with a boy at one of those highly su­per­vised dances, wear­ing a strap­less gown with a bouf­fant skirt and mul­ti­ple crino­lines. When I glanced down, I re­al­ized my dress with its tightly boned bodice had turned around so that my padded “boobs” were prac­ti­cally at my back.

I don’t re­call which boy was my date that night. I’m pretty sure I was wear­ing a white gown with tiny red polka dots, but it could have been the burnt or­ange num­ber. And I don’t re­mem­ber who drove us there or home again. Nor do I re­call the month or even the sea­son when I broke up with my boyfriend. In both in­stances, the cen­tral event comes vividly to mind, while the sur­round­ing cir­cum­stances are hazy or for­got­ten.

That’s en­tirely in keep­ing with the char­ac­ter­is­tics of long-term me­mory, as I’ve learned by Googling ar­ti­cles and re­search pa­pers. Ac­cord­ing to Ken­dra Cherry, “Mem­o­ries that are fre­quently ac­cessed also be­come much stronger and eas­ier to re­call. Ac­cess­ing these mem­o­ries over and over again strength­ens the neu­ral net­works in which the in­for­ma­tion is en­coded . ... On the other hand, mem­o­ries that are not re­called of­ten can some­times weaken or even be lost or re­placed by other in­for­ma­tion.”

Sci­en­tific knowl­edge of the way me­mory works is evolv­ing rapidly, and there are var­ied the­o­ries, but there’s gen­eral agree­ment that mem­o­ries are fluid, trans­form­ing ev­ery time they’re ac­cessed. Iron­i­cally, dur­ing the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s shame­ful grilling of Chris­tine Blasey Ford, the only per­son who dis­played any knowl­edge of how the brain re­acts to trauma and pro­cesses mem­o­ries was Ford her­self. The se­na­tors, and the fe­male pros­e­cu­tor the Repub­li­cans hid be­hind, harped on ques­tions of me­mory with ab­so­lutely no un­der­stand­ing of how it works.

Could they have both­ered to do a lit­tle re­search on the topic? Ev­i­dently not — they were so smug and self-sat­is­fied that they thought they al­ready knew more than enough.

Judg­ing by what I’ve learned about the un­re­li­a­bil­ity of longterm me­mory, we may never know what ac­tu­ally hap­pened that night in Chevy Chase. I be­lieve Ford, I sus­pect Ka­vanaugh’s mem­o­ries may have been oblit­er­ated by his heavy drink­ing, and, as far as we’ve seen any wit­nesses’ ac­counts have done lit­tle to clar­ify the events of the sum­mer of 1982. The na­tion­ally wrench­ing con­fir­ma­tion process we just wit­nessed may well have been only the be­gin­ning of a war be­tween the sexes the likes of which our coun­try has never seen.

On the plus side, I’ve learned some fas­ci­nat­ing facts about me­mory, and they’ve helped il­lu­mi­nate a long-stand­ing dis­agree­ment with my hus­band about the ex­act date in Novem­ber 1973, when we first met. It was at Max’s Kan­sas City, the night­club in lower Man­hat­tan that was a trendy hang­out for artists and rock stars. I was pho­tograph­ing a band up­stairs, and when I came down to the bar area, he was sit­ting at a round ta­ble with friends. He no­ticed the cam­era slung around my neck and said, “I see you’re us­ing a Pen­tax. I’m writ­ing a book about Pen­tax.”

We both re­mem­ber the de­tails of that en­counter the same way, and he even re­mem­bers what I was wear­ing, but 45 years later, we still dis­agree about what band I was pho­tograph­ing that night. He in­sists it was our mu­tual friend Alan Vega, while I’m con­vinced it was Iggy and the Stooges. Back then I kept de­tailed cal­en­dar/diaries, as I do to this day. Like Ka­vanaugh, I in­cluded ap­point­ments and note­wor­thy events, but for some rea­son I didn’t jot down the name of the band, much less the fact that I had met my fu­ture hus­band. At the time it was just an­other typ­i­cal night at Max’s, and I had no idea how sig­nif­i­cant it would be­come in ret­ro­spect.

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