On the Impermanence of Memory
Let me tell you a story, a story that is over three decades old.
It's a typical December day, I'm in kindergarten. All of us kids are sitting on the floor, around our teacher. The teacher is holding a set of cards with letters of the alphabet on them. The one I remember is “O” because it had a photo of an Octopus, not in the water, but on a gray solid background. Even at five years old I could tell you that octopus wasn't happy about life, if it was still alive. But that's not the point.
Somewhere around “Q” the door opens and another classmate comes in. She's wrapped up, bundled up against December weather. She puts her backpack down, carefully takes off her earmuffs, puts them on the shelf (“R”). She unzips her jacket, takes her scarf off and hangs it on a hook (“S”). She takes her coat off and puts it on the same hook (“T”).
Then she unzips her jeans and takes them off as well. (“NO!!!!” yells the teacher, but the card says “U”.)
But it's okay, she's got a skirt and leggings on under the jeans; they were just doubling as snow pants.
So Here's the Thing
We moved away less than two years later. I'm only about 50% sure I remember this girl's name; it's possible I'm conflating her with the one friend I had in that school before we moved. I certainly don't remember her face; I don't even really remember what color her coat was.
And what's even weirder is that when I recall this memory, she's not a five year old kindergartner, she's an adult. So am I. Contextually, our teacher is roughly fifteen feet tall, because right now I'm over six feet and she's quite a bit taller than me.
My memory of this event isn't a movie, it's just a script. The actors have changed over the course of my life to make sense with me being in the scene. This event happened in the 1980s, but in my mind her clothing (and my clothing) make sense for the 21st century.
Every time we recall a memory our brains wire in new connections to that memory. In computer terms every “read” is also a “write”.